BEREA, Ohio – Dressing at his cubicle, wide receiver Josh Gordon slipped on a pair of green shorts and a hooded Baylor sweatshirt. He tied the laces of his Nike hiking boots, threw on a floppy-eared, fur-lined hunter's cap and headed toward the door in the Browns' locker room.
When he looked up and noticed several cameras pointed in his direction, Gordon flashed a smile and politely waved.
He's back. He never really left.
The immensely talented but troubled Gordon, who broke out as one of the NFL's biggest playmakers last season, returned from his 10-game, league-imposed suspension for drug violations on Monday and was a welcomed sight to the Browns, still stinging from a 23-7 loss on Sunday to the Houston Texans.
"It was good to see him back today, a smile on his face and be truly among his teammates," Browns coach Mike Pettine said.
Gordon officially rejoined the Browns (6-4) on a day when they learned starting linebackers Karlos Dansby (knee) and Jabaal Sheard (foot) may have both sustained season-ending injuries. The 23-year-old Gordon chatted briefly with a few reporters, saying he was excited to be back and "let's see if I can help the guys."
The Browns said he'll speak to a larger media group following Wednesday's practice, when the electrifying No. 12 will be running pass routes with his teammates for the first time since late August.
Gordon was allowed in the team's facility for the past two months but had been banned from working out with his teammates during his suspension — originally a one-year ban — for failing a test for marijuana. The Pro Bowler had been restricted to catching passes from a JUGS gun, lifting weights on his own and counting down the days until he was allowed to get back on the field and do what he does best.
Minutes after he left the locker room, Gordon posted a comment on Twitter that summed up his changed status.
He wrote: "No place I'd rather be than Cleveland right about now ... #reinstated."
Pettine said it's too early to know if Gordon, who led the league with 1,646 yards receiving last season, will be able to play this Sunday when the Browns visit Atlanta. Pettine wants to gauge what kind of shape Gordon is in before deciding whether to include him in the game plan.
"He hasn't had contact, hasn't played in a game in 75, 80 days," Pettine said. "That is a lot of time. He has been working out, but that's not football. Josh is an elite receiver, he's proven that, but we have to be very smart with how we handle it."
Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer is thrilled Gordon will be back on the field. They developed great chemistry last season and Hoyer has seen the kind of stress Gordon's speed and size can put on a defense. However, Hoyer cautioned it's unfair to put any expectations on Gordon or expect him to step in an immediately impact Cleveland's offense.
"You get a guy out there like Josh, the defense has to respect him," Hoyer said. "Anytime you have a threat like that, it definitely helps out the offense. Look, we all know what Josh is capable of, but let's not put all this pressure on him that he's going to be the savior."
Pettine was quick to point out the contributions of wide receivers Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, Travis Benjamin and Miles Austin while Gordon was out. And just because Gordon's eligible, Cleveland's other receivers won't be pushed aside.
"We've played a lot of good football. I think that group has done an outstanding job. Whether it's Miles, whether it's Hawk, Gabriel, Travis, I think they've all done exceptionally well throughout the year," Pettine said. "They've all had their moments making big plays."
"We're looking for more of the same from them, and again, it'll be a process with Josh," he said. "We're going to be smart."
NOTES: Browns DE Phil Taylor tweeted that he underwent knee surgery on Monday. ... Pettine said RB Ben Tate getting only two carries on Sunday was part of the game plan and rookies Isaiah Crowell have earned their playing time. "There's an explosiveness there with the young backs, just a little bit more pop. We wanted to see those guys out there. Sometimes it's not a matter of a negative against a guy. Sometimes it's more of a positive with the other ones, but we take everything into account when we discuss the running backs."
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