Competition abounds at wide receiver

BEREA, Ohio -- Sometimes, the only thing a football team can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

As the possible indefinite suspension of Josh Gordon looms over their plans for the 2014 regular season, the Cleveland Browns have done everything possible to ensure competition would make the whole receiving corps better, whether or not the NFL's leader in receiving yards from a year ago is in the fold or not.

"When you're out there on the field, you have all the opportunities that everybody else does," wide receiver Anthony Armstrong said. "Obviously, for a rookie, your reps are going to be smaller, but that just means you have to take advantage of all of them.

"It goes for somebody that's been in the offense for a while. If you don't take advantage of your opportunities, they're going to give them to somebody else, so each and every play is an opportunity to make your mark, get better and find a way to make your niche in the offense."

Improving the wide receiver corps is exactly why the Browns signed veteran Andrew Hawkins to a $13.6 million offer sheet that his former team, the Cincinnati Bengals, did not match.

In 35 career games, Hawkins has turned 86 catches into 995 yards and four touchdowns, and he feels the competition at wide receiver is "very wide open."

"Guys have just got to come out here and work hard every day," Hawkins said. "Thank goodness, we don't have to make that call. The coaches will make a decision as time goes on, but you just do what you do individually and hope for the best.

"I just know we have a great group of guys that work hard, and I've said it time and time again, that's the start of something special because you can't get to all of the other stuff unless guys are busting their butts. I think the guys that they brought in are special guys who work hard with a lot of talent. Time will tell, but we have a lot to work through."

And that "great group of guys" got a boost in the form of veteran Nate Burleson, who returned to practice during the final mini-camp practice sessions after missing most of the offseason program because of an injured arm he suffered during the voluntary mini-camp at the end of April.

"Nate is a high-energy guy and he's a guy that we feed off of because he's played the game for so long and he loves it," Hawkins said. "He takes it for what it is, so it's always cool to have Nate on the side with us."

Burleson believes the wide receivers did "a tremendous job of taking advantage of their opportunities" during the mini-camp practices.

"We've got guys on this team that have proven themselves," Burleson said. "Most of the players, it's either opportunity hasn't given them a chance to shine or injuries have held guys back. I don't really care what people think of the receiving corps. It's up to us to prove to people who think we're good right, and people who don't think we're good wrong. We're just going to go out there and make plays, and we'll answer those questions when the season comes.

"Hawkins, he's virtually unstoppable. His route-running ability is incredible. He runs very well. He's digesting the playbook at a very fast rate, and Ant Armstrong, he's been making big play after big play. I don't care if he knows the playbook a little more than everybody else. He is making big plays, and I like seeing that. I've got to give those guys a special shout out. We've got a really good group. All of us are playing well."

In addition to Burleson, and fellow veteran Miles Austin, the Browns will get to take a look at the 6-foot-2, 216-pound Charles Johnson, whom they signed off of the Green Bay Packers' practice squad last year only to find out the Grand Valley State University product had a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and was done for the remainder of the season.

"We're very anxious to see him," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "We went back and watched some tape of him at Grand Valley (State), and he was impressive there, and just the things that we've heard from the information that we got from Green Bay when he was on the practice squad and playing very well.

"We don't know much, but he's a guy that's been great in the meetings. He knows the system very well, and we're very much looking forward to getting him out there."


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