BEREA, Ohio — Some of that orange on Josh Gordon's helmet may be rust.
Cleveland's star wide receiver said Thursday that he's still not fully up to speed with the Browns offense since returning from a 10-game suspension for repeated drug violations.
Gordon has been back for two games, but said he hasn't quite grasped changes in the terminology to some plays that he hasn't run before.
"I've got a long way to go to be where I want to be," he said.
The Browns (7-5) don't really have time for Gordon to catch up. In the thick of the AFC playoff chase with four games left, they're facing a must-win situation each week, starting this Sunday at home against the Indianapolis Colts.
Gordon followed up an impressive debut against Atlanta — eight catches for 120 yards — on Nov. 23 with a solid game last week, when he caught seven passes for 75 yards in a loss at Buffalo.
However, the statistics didn't tell the whole story as Gordon ran the wrong route one play that cost quarterback Brian Hoyer an interception and he didn't finish off other plays the way the Browns need him to.
Late in the first half against the Bills, Gordon and Hoyer failed to connect on a throw over the middle that got picked off. It was clear that quarterback and receiver were not on the same page, and Gordon accepted blame for a turnover that goes on Hoyer's resume.
"I was supposed to make an in cut, the interception was on me," Gordon said following practice. "I ran the wrong route."
It wasn't the first miscommunication between Gordon and Hoyer. Against the Falcons, Hoyer locked in on Cleveland's dynamic No. 12, forcing throws and winding up with three interceptions. Hoyer and Gordon have been trying to get back some of the timing they had last season, when the 23-year-old receiver led the league with 1,646 yards.
"We definitely have to get better in sync," said Hoyer, who has targeted Gordon 29 times in 70 passes over two games. "We stay after practice and talk through things, and we're trying to work through it. It's tough when you're not around for 10 weeks. You can't put that all on Josh."
"Not having 10 weeks and then all of a sudden you're into NFL games, it's hard to work on the fly."
Gordon is doing all he can to make up for lost time. He's been studying harder to familiarize himself with plays that he was unable to work on during his ban. Gordon was prohibited from position group meetings during his suspension, so he's learning on the go.
Sometimes that's in practice, sometimes that's in games. Gordon said he and Hoyer are getting their chemistry right.
"I think we're real close to where to need to be, but I know in my mind I'm not where I want to be because I'd like for it to be just second nature and for me to not have to think about it," he said. "I'm playing catch-up."
The other issue for Gordon is that the Browns want him to give 100 percent on every play. Because he does things with such ease, Gordon gives the impression he's coasting.
Browns coach Mike Pettine credited him for blocking better last week, but pointed out that Gordon was excellent "on some plays. It wasn't every snap."
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said it's up to Gordon to be more consistent and get the most out of his superb skills.
"I think a lot of things with Josh his whole life, because of how talented he is, has come pretty easy," Shanahan said. "It's nothing as far as a lack of effort. It's just more of you've got to constantly be challenging him. I don't think he's been challenged a ton throughout his life, and if I was as talented as him, I probably wouldn't be very stressed out either.
"It's our job to keep him like that so he's on it every play because in the NFL, you can have 50 good plays, and that one bad play that you just mentally relaxed a little bit could be the difference in winning and losing. At this time of year, that could be the difference in the playoffs."
NOTES: Browns LB Paul Kruger (illness) and S Donte Whitner (rest) missed practice. ... Centers Nick McDonald and Ryan Seymour have been splitting practice snaps this week. Seymour came in when McDonald was hurt last week and could start. ... G John Greco plans to appeal an $8,000 league fine for unnecessary roughness in last week's game. ... Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor confirmed the team worked out kickers this week, but said he has confidence in K Billy Cundiff, who has missed one field goal in four straight games.
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