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Gordon Caught On – And Caught Passes – Because Of Mike Wilson

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Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

To almost everybody, Mike Wilson will never be more than a footnote in Cleveland Browns history.

He served as wide receivers coach from 2011-2012, two seasons during which the team went just 9-23. The offense struggled mightily and the contributions of the wide receivers paled in comparison to those of most of the other teams around the NFL.

No one is ever going to confuse Wilson with household names in Cleveland such as Lindy Infante and Jim Shofner, the two best offensive assistants in Browns history.

But if WR Josh Gordon develops into the player many people believe he can become, then he – and the Browns – can thank Wilson for laying the groundwork for it.

No player on the team during the trying 2012 season benefited more from his position coach’s help than Gordon – and Wilson deserves a ton of credit for that.

Gordon was a rookie last year, but that doesn’t begin to describe just how green he was. No rookie in franchise history has ever reported to training camp with more to learn about the pro game – and keeping his head in the game -- than Gordon. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder was quite talented and had all the requisite physical tools in being big, strong, fast and athletic, but he was raw in so many ways.

Gordon didn’t arrive to the Browns until several weeks before the start of training camp after being taken in the second round of the 2012 NFL Supplemental Draft. But he had not played football since 2010, sitting out 2011 after transferring to Utah from Baylor. He spent 2009 and 2010 with the Bears and had big numbers in his final year in Waco before his career – for a variety of reasons – hit a stumbling block.

With such limited college experience – especially prior to his arrival in Cleveland – Gordon didn’t even quality as a project. That term is used for players who are much further along than that.

Really, the fact he didn’t know the Browns’ offense was the least of his problems. He didn’t know much about playing football at a high level, period.

Wilson was the perfect guy to not just coach Gordon, but to take him under his wing. He spent 10 seasons as a wide receiver with the San Francisco 49ers during their heyday of 1981-90, playing with the likes of Jerry Rice and John Taylor as they caught passes from Joe Montana. So he had been exposed to the NFL passing game at its highest levels and, as such, knows what it takes to make it in the NFL.

Wilson used all of that experience to shape and mold Gordon. The rookie improved by leaps and bounds on what seemed like a daily basis, elevating his status from project to a work-in-progress before becoming a contributor, starter and finally a go-to receiver in the passing game.

Gordon finished the season third on the team with 50 receptions, averaged 16.1 yards per catch, caught a club-best five touchdown passes and had the longest reception all year – a 71-yarder for a score. His numbers probably would have been better had it not been for the antiquated nature of the team’s West Coast offense.

But he would have done none of that without Wilson’s guidance.

Gordon still has a long, long way to go before he’s an accomplished NFL receiver, but he made a big push in that direction in 2012.