The big plays. The big numbers. The dominance that has put his name in the same conversation with those of the greatest receivers in the NFL.
Calvin Johnson … Larry Fitzgerald … Josh Gordon.
“I always had that mindset of playing football, when I started playing the wide receiver position, I always strived to be the best,” Gordon said. “And now that I’m this type of platform, this level, I feel as though it’s only right for me to continue to have that mindset, that work ethic to try to get better and better.”
Despite being suspended for the first two games of the season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, he leads the league with 1,400 receiving yards and is on pace for 1,781 for the season, which would be the third-most in NFL history. Gordon’s average of 127.3 receiving yards per game also leads the league, and he has unseated Johnson for most receiving yards in a four-game span in league history.
Which brings us to Gordon’s defining quality: Making almost every scoring catch a long-distance affair.
One of the main reasons is that opposing defensive backs continually struggle to get a good gauge on Gordon’s speed. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, he has a long, lean frame and his long strides give the false impression that he isn’t running particularly fast. Except he is. And he has consistently outrun defenders on big plays, such as his 80-yard touchdown reception against New England last Sunday and his 95-yard scoring catch against Jacksonville on Dec. 1.
“When I run routes, I definitely use (the deceiving speed) to my advantage,” Gordon said. “When they’re not pressed and they’re sagging off a little bit, I can get into their cushion a little bit faster than they expect, so they’ll turn their hips real fast and I’ll try to break either way and try to get open.”
Besides his physical skills, he has also benefitted greatly from the experience he has gained since last year.
“Just a one-year jump can do a lot for you, confidence-wise,” Gordon said. “Just having an at-ease type of mindset with who’s on the field, playing against premiere players – superstar, All-Pro-type athletes – you’re a little bit more calm. You feel as though you belong there.
“But from the details of it, I’ve really been going a lot harder at practice. I finally learned how to practice. Last year, I knew how to play. But this year, the approach to the game and everything, prerequisites, have definitely taken their toll positively on the effects of what I’ve been doing each week going into the game.”
Gordon has cleared a couple of significant hurdles to have the type of season he’s having.
One is the fact he has had to work with three different quarterbacks:
“To have one quarterback would be a lot easier,” Gordon said. “It’s been a hurdle for us, but it’s been something we’ve been pushing through and persevering through, and we just have that mindset to get over the hump and get through the next obstacle.”
Another obstacle for Gordon was the distraction of rampant speculation that the Browns were seriously considering trading him before the league’s Oct. 29 trading deadline. Much of the discussion regarding a potential Gordon trade focused on the risk that another violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy would result in his being suspended for a full season.
Gordon played well before the deadline, but has performed far better since. He also seems to be fitting in much better with his teammates since arriving in Cleveland as a supplemental draft choice in July, 2012.
“Since the trade deadline, I’ve definitely felt more at ease,” Gordon said. “Going into it, for about two months, I definitely felt a lot more motivation in each game. I’d have been staying here or playing for somebody else. I just wanted to go out there and prove, regardless, you’re going to have a good wide receiver on your team and you wouldn’t have to worry about anything off the field or him loafing on the field or anything like that. But I really wanted to go out there and make a name for myself.
“The guys definitely embraced me here. When you’re doing good, doing well, the guys want to attach to that and surround themselves around that. So that’s what we’ve been doing here. We’ve got a great group of guys. I love these guys, and hopefully I can stay here as long as possible.”
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