NFL cornerbacks scheduled to play the Cleveland Browns this season are undoubtedly aware their jobs just became a lot tougher.
Star wide receiver Josh Gordon is back from his 10-game suspension for violating the NFL substance-abuse policy and will play Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer now has the advantage of lobbing passes to a tall, athletic and tough deep threat who's one of the most dangerous receivers in the league.
"It was definitely exciting to get out there and throw with him again," Hoyer told Cleveland reporters after Gordon's first practice back. "Obviously, he's Josh Gordon so he goes out there and you can see the talent is right there. You could tell he was amped up. The adrenaline was definitely flowing."
Despite being suspended for two games last season after testing positive for codeine, Gordon managed to lead the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards on 87 receptions and nine touchdowns. The oft-troubled 6-foot-3, 225-pound Pro Bowl receiver averaged 18.9 yards per reception.
Gordon's physical talent is unquestioned. What remains to be seen is how quickly he'll adjust to the nuances of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's playbook.
"I told him, 'If you've got a question, just ask me. Don't be ashamed if you don't know something. Ask because you haven't had the privilege of going over it for the last 10 weeks, being in the huddle, that type of thing,'" Hoyer said. "Athletically, no one is going to question Josh Gordon. He's a freak, but it's not basketball. You don't just go out and shoot hoops. There are plays. It's a team game."
A year ago during Gordon's first game back from suspension, he was targeted 19 times and caught 10 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown in a comeback victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
As much fear as Gordon strikes in cornerbacks, he also creates doubt for his team with his lengthy history in the NFL drug program. Another strike will cause Gordon to be banned indefinitely.
Gordon was originally banned for the entire season, but caught a break when the NFL revised its drug policy and raised the testing threshold for a positive marijuana test. During his suspension, Gordon was convicted of driving under the influence in North Carolina and spent time in a California rehab facility
"Going through this time really just gave me time to see like it's not the end of life," Gordon said. "Life is great right now. I can't complain about anything. I'm blessed to be in the position I am."
Bell cow in Pittsburgh
When the Pittsburgh Steelers effectively fired disgruntled backup running back LeGarrette Blount after he walked out on them Monday night in the final minutes of a win over the Tennessee Titans, it created more work for standout runner Le'Veon Bell.
With Blount gone, Bell is the lone proven back on the roster.
"I really don't feel any additional pressure," Bell told Pittsburgh reporters. "This is what I've trained for all along. I'm ready for whatever they need me to do. I worked hard in the offseason and training camp to prepare myself for this time."
Bell broke roughly nine tackles against the Titans as he rushed for 204 yards on a career-high 33 carries.
The versatile 6-foot-1, 244-pound Bell has rushed for 951 yards and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He's also caught 57 passes for 484 yards and two touchdowns. The Steelers trust Bell's durability and energy.
"When everybody else was dragging around, he had a bounce in his step after the game," Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said of Bell. "So, he's got energy, and we'll give him what he can take."
Two-headed Bengals backfield
The emergence of rookie running back Jeremy Hill has created a stronger running game for the Cincinnati Bengals.
The rugged third-round draft pick from LSU rushed for 361 yards while starter Giovani Bernard was sidelined with a hip pointer and clavicle injury for the past three games.
With Bernard back for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans, the Bengals are likely to divide playing time between the talented tandem.
"I think Jeremy deserves (more carries) and I think with Gio just coming back, it's going to be hard for me to just say, 'Let's just thrust him in there again and let him go again,'" Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson told Cincinnati reporters. "I think Jeremy has done tremendous and he earns the right to play. There's no question about that, but it's always good to have two really good runners."