Aug 8, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Tori Gurley (9) makes a reception against St. Louis Rams defensive back Robert Steeples (36) during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports
Wide Receiver Tory Gurley is going to play in his first regular season game on Sunday when he suits up for the Browns against the Dolphins. The Browns opted to release running back Dennis Johnson and promoted Gurley to the active roster to bolster their thin receiver corp for this week and possibly next while Josh Gordon serves his suspension. Gurley, 25, the face of perseverance is on his seventh NFL team in his third year in the league and he will finally get to go out on the tunnel for game day. In addition to being a dream come true for Gurley, it would be a mistake to write off Johnson from possibly coming back to the Browns.
Gurley opted to leave South Carolina as a junior and enter his name in the draft. Whether it was a miscalculation of his own talent, feeling he had nothing else to gain in another year of the Gamecocks, or a financial hardship that caused him to make the move, the Rock Hill native was not selected in the 2011 NFL Draft. Gurley did have a big body and physical tools that could be developed, so the Green Bay Packers signed him as an undrafted free agent. After time on their practice squad, Gurley spent time on the practice squads of the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers where he would ran into Norv Turner.
After Turner was hired as the offensive coordinator in Cleveland, Gurley was signed by the Browns. While he had flashes on special teams and with his imposing size as a wide receiver, he did not make the final 53 in what seemed to be a difficult cut considering their numbers at wide receiver. It seemed like Gurley had a shot to make it when they opted to cut ties with David Nelson, who simply could not get healthy enough to be a factor. Nelson had size the Browns seemed to want at 6’5” 215lbs and Gurley is not quite as tall but is broader at 6’4” 230lbs.
In addition to the fact the Browns were heading into this game with only four active receivers, which is a little precarious on its own, Travis Benjamin is slotted to return kicks and punts. As a result, the potential is higher for him to get hurt and whether it be Benjamin or anyone else, even a cramping problem or something minor drops them to three wide receivers for part of the game. The Browns ultimately decided this was too thin and brought up Gurley. It might be a minor deal for most fans, but it will certainly be a special day for Gurley and a testament to his hard work to make his dream come true.
As far as Dennis Johnson is concerned, this move could be the Mike Lombardi influence right out of the Bill Belichick playbook. The Patriots are a team that have claimed guys off of waivers like the Browns did with Johnson, held them up until right before gameday when everyone was pretty set on their rosters and then released them for a player they needed for that game or whatever other reason. With other teams in a position where they may not want to mess with their rosters because they are set for the game, the player slips through waivers and the Patriots either put him on the practice squad or he is a free agent for them to sign up again when needed.
It is certainly possible that after claiming Johnson off of waivers, they had a try out between he and fellow waiver claim Bobby Rainey and simply liked what Rainey did for them more and opted to keep him. Knowing what Gurley brought to the table, they could use the roster spot as a tryout spot, but they have a couple temporary players on the roster. Once Josh Gordon is back from his suspension, they will likely cut Gurley or Josh Cooper. They will also likely get rid of an offensive lineman, perhaps Oniel Cousins, when Shawn Lauvao is ready to return. As a result, there would be two more roster spots available and one might be for Dennis Johnson if he does not opt to sign somewhere else, should he clear waivers.
The Patriots have shown they are willing to play this type of shell game with the roster, Lombardi has been heavily influenced by Bill Belichick and the Browns have already shown type of move with how they handled the kicker spot, so it is just something worth watching. In the meantime, the Browns will have five wide receivers for the Dolphins as well as having someone that was helpful on special teams with the addition of Gurley. The shell game aside, this is a huge deal for Gurley and hopefully his dream of playing in his first game in the regular season as a pro is also his first win.