BEREA: Quarterback Robert Griffin III and cornerback Joe Haden are determined to do everything in their power to support recently reinstated wide receiver Josh Gordon, ease his return to the Browns and help him stay on the right path.
Gordon said he committed to Baylor University in 2009 partly because of Griffin. They became such close friends that Gordon likens Griffin to an older brother.
“I’m glad that he considers me and can look at me as a big brother, someone he can lean on,” Griffin said Friday as training camp began. “... We have always been family. I know what he has to do to overcome obstacles that he has put himself into. If you talk to him, you’re going to love him. You are going to think he’s a great guy. He just made a couple mistakes, and it’s his job and our job to no longer make those mistakes.”
Gordon and Haden have developed a strong friendship since they became teammates in Cleveland four years ago. Haden and his wife, Sarah, plan to hang out with Gordon and host him for dinner during the Browns’ downtime.
“I’m super excited for J.G. to be back,” Haden said. “We’ve talked several times, and I’m just telling him, ‘Let’s get back to normal, J.G. Let’s both of us go back to the Pro Bowl. It’s been a little off. I didn’t have my year last year. You weren’t here.’”
Gordon has missed 27 of the Browns’ past 32 games because of recurring violations of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, but he clearly still has the backing of his teammates after being reinstated by Commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday. Gordon will be suspended for the first four regular-season games of the 2016 season.
The Browns’ brass has welcomed him back, too, and Griffin and Haden have vouched for him when asked by the organization’s bigwigs.
“I don’t think it was just me that did that,” Griffin said. “I think the coaches wanted to see him. They wanted to give him a fresh slate, an opportunity to write his own story, erase the tape and record a new message.”
Gordon’s friends aren’t the only players who are pleased to see him.
“I applaud the league for letting him back in and making that decision,” said quarterback Josh McCown, who’s never previously played with Gordon. “You look at guys going through those things, and I believe structure can only benefit those guys. To have him here, I believe gives him the best chance to put his best foot forward. We’ll just all rally around him as teammates and be available to help him do that.”
Gordon is sidelined with a quadriceps injury and won’t practice for at least a couple of weeks, but he studied the script of plays as he watched the first practice of camp. Haden worked out with Gordon in Los Angeles in the offseason and expects the 2013 All-Pro selection to have a stellar comeback after a long layoff.
“J.G.’s a rare specimen,” Haden said. “So I would expect him to be good.”
Return on horizon
Haden is still rehabbing after undergoing ankle surgery in March. However, Haden and coach Hue Jackson are confident the two-time Pro Bowler won’t miss the regular-season opener Sept. 11.
“He’ll have an opportunity, hopefully, in the preseason to play,” Jackson said. “But I know for a fact that he will be out there getting ready to play in the opening game.”
Haden also expects to return to practice soon. He ran well Thursday in a conditioning test.
“It’s on its way. I’ve been working hard, been here the whole offseason and the training staff, we’ve been doing a really good job,” he said. “We have a really good schedule, and I’m just getting better every day. Whenever they say I’m ready to go, I’ll be out there.”
Haden hopes to knock some rust off in the preseason.
“I definitely would want to get some action before the regular season,” he said.
Limited to five games last year because of two concussions and other injuries, Haden’s hungry.
“It’s really a ‘what have you done for me lately’ league, and you kind of see that when it was a very bad season for me last year,” he said. “I had high expectations, and I definitely didn’t live up to them. I’m just ready to get back out there and prove that I’m still one of the best corners in the league.”
Pro Bowl tight end Gary Barnidge practiced Friday after having sports hernia surgery June 2. He said the first three days after the procedure were difficult, but his recovery has been “smooth sailing” ever since.
“We knew this plan going in that we were going to be ready for training camp, and that was the goal the whole time,” he said.
Fans shut out
The Browns closed their first practice of camp to the general public due to inclement weather. The session was sold out, but thousands of fans were turned away because of lightning in the area. The team practiced outside after a short delay.
“I wish I could talk to Mother Nature and have it go differently,” Jackson said. “It was a safety issue and I respect that. It’s really about making sure our fans are OK.”
Saturday’s practice is scheduled to be open to the public and run from 3:25-5:55 p.m.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.