When motivation meets talent, success can be achieved.
Cleveland Browns tight end
Cameron came into the 2013 regular season motivated to achieve many things, but it started with two goals: work hard to become a more productive player within the offense, and shed the “basketball player” label that he has been saddled with since his college days at the University of Southern California.
Cameron entered his third NFL season with 26 career receptions, which he turned into 259 yards and one touchdown. And within the first three games of this season, the fourth-round pick in 2011 had not only eclipsed single-season marks, but also his career touchdowns and yardage totals.
“Jordan is a guy that can run real well and does a good job of using his body, and he catches with his hands,” said Browns tight ends coach Jon Embree. “I think that plays a part in it. The quarterback’s looking for him and getting the ball near him.
“Anytime the quarterback has receivers, tight ends that they know will go up and get the ball, will catch the ball in traffic, they’re a little more comfortable throwing the ball in that direction. It was good for him to get that start so he could see the hard work that he’s put in is paying off for him.”
And while part of Cameron’s motivation to work hard comes from the desire to shed the “basketball player” label, Embree sees the athleticism it took to be a power forward on the basketball court as a positive on the football field.
“He’s a prideful guy,” Embree said. “He wants to be good. He wants to have success. He wants to help his team win. For him, I haven’t really talked about the basketball label. I never saw him that way.
“The fact that he was a basketball player, and played it for such a long time, I think that actually contributes to part of his success because of his ability to catch the ball outside his frame with his hands. That comes from playing a lot of basketball. Some of the things with his footwork comes because he was a basketball player.”
Embree knows a little bit about coaching former basketball players on the gridiron.
After spending the first 15 years of his coaching career at the collegiate level, Embree broke into the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he mentored Tony Gonzalez to three straight Pro Bowls and 268 catches for 3,130 yards.
At the end of the offseason program, Embree reached out to Gonzalez, who plays for the Atlanta Falcons, and asked the future Pro Football Hall of Famer to spend some time with Cameron.
“I was hoping that getting them together, the No. 1 thing that he would take from Tony or was able to gather from Tony was the fact of how hard he works and how he prepares,” Embree said. “Tony Gonzalez is a tireless worker. He’s always trying to find ways to get better. He never takes anything for granted. Whether it’s catching the ball or his footwork, he works it every day.
“Jordan’s taken a lot of those things that Tony shared with him and did with him, and has incorporated it into how he practices and some of the things he does on game day. Hopefully, they continue their friendship. Tony called me (recently), and we talked for a while. He called to talk about Jordan. He’s been following Jordan and keeping an eye on him. I think that’s helped boost Jordan’s confidence also.”
The meeting apparently worked for Cameron.
Although the start of the season was impressive for Cameron, who had 269 yards and four touchdowns on 20 catches through the first three weeks of the season, including a three-score performance in the team’s 31-27 come-from-behind victory at the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 22, he has continued to work hard on the field and in the classroom.
While Cameron has made a noticeable impact in the passing game, he has worked on becoming an all-around tight end. According to Embree, Cameron has made his greatest strides “in the run game.”
“He’s becoming a capable blocker,” Embree said. “He’s been able to do some things to get our running game going, and as we continue to get going with the running game, whenever you have a tight end that can block and do some things, that’s not just one-dimensional at that position, it really gives you an advantage as you’re trying to attack defenses.
“I think you need to have guys that can do it all so you can call things and not feel like you’re hamstrung. Part of that is a mindset, willing to go in there and grind, do the things you need to do to try and be successful as a blocker, and Jordan has that mindset.”
Entering the second half of the regular season, Cameron leads the Browns with 50 catches and six touchdowns, and ranks second on the team with 600 receiving yards. In addition to the team statistics, Cameron is third in the NFL in receptions and receiving yards and fourth in points scored among tight ends.
“He can be better,” Embree said. “There’s a lot of areas he can be better, and I’m not saying that in a manner to diminish anything he’s done, but as a coach, you can never be satisfied, and if you’re going to be a great player, you can never be satisfied. He can continue to get better in the run game. There are some things that he can clean up with route-running. He can definitely get better, and he will.“He works hard. He wants to learn. He takes it seriously about trying to be the best, so whenever you’re coaching somebody that has those qualities along with the skills that he has, it’s always a lot of fun.”