Josh Gordon jumped at the chance the way he jumps past defenders on slant routes.
Spend a little extra time with Tom Brady? Oh yeah, the Patriots wide receiver was all in on that.
“I think it’s a good suggestion to take if somebody offers it to you, especially Tom Brady,’’ Gordon said, when asked about the early-morning and late-night tutorials with his quarterback. “I think it’s something that you should pick up on and try to get involved in, and that’s what I did.’’
Gordon’s production — he leads the Patriots with 701 receiving yards despite not playing with them until Week 4 — has been the result of the work he’s put in not only in the team sessions, but also the individual work he’s put in with his teammates and coaches.
“[I’ve] just really enjoyed our time together,’’ said Brady, whose locker is next door to Gordon’s. “We spend so much time here. We’re here until late at night, early in the morning. We’re on the field, [we’re] watching film and so forth. It’s been great. I can’t say enough great things.’’
Bill Belichick pointed to Gordon’s intelligence, his background in several systems in Cleveland, and his willingness to work as key reasons Gordon has acclimated so quickly and successfully to his new team.
“He’s a smart kid, so he learns well,” the coach said. “For better or worse, he’s been in a lot of different systems. I know it was only one team, but it was a lot of different systems up there. Most everything we’ve asked him to do he’s done somewhere along the line for somebody. There isn’t a lot of, ‘Well, I’ve never done that before or what are we talking about here.’ It was just kind of transferring it into what we do relative to the way he did it in the past and what the differences are and maybe what the similarities are.’’
Gordon’s splendid blend of size and strength make him a tough matchup on any route, but he has thrived on slants, where he is able to shield his defender from the ball before plucking Brady’s passes.
“If they can’t stop it, we’re going to keep going to it,’’ Gordon said with a slight grin.
Once he gets the ball in his hands, Gordon has proven to be a handful to drag down.
“Yeah, he’s very strong at the catch point,’’ said Brady. He’s got that big body. It’s hard to go through him. He’s got a great catch radius. When the ball’s in the air, he just attacks it. I think most of the time [defenders are] not really going for the ball. They’re just trying to get him on the ground. His catch-and-run is dynamic. He’s made a lot of great plays for us this year.’’
Gordon, who has 39 catches for the Patriots for an average gain of 18.0 yards per catch — the top number in the league since making his New England debut — said his mission is simple once he secures the ball.
“Just finish the play as hard as I can, take it as far as I can, hold onto the ball, try to help us get a first down, and move the chains more than anything,’’ he said. “That’s what I’m thinking about.’’
It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Patriots run defense, which struggled against the Vikings (7.3 yards per tote) and was steamrolled by the Dolphins (9.0).
Notably absent in those games was tackle Danny Shelton, who was acquired from the Browns in the offseason in large part because of his prowess against the run.
Shelton was a healthy scratch for those games after being a regular in the front seven rotation for the first 11 weeks. Shelton acknowledged last week it’s been a frustrating turn of events.
“The competitor in me is always going to feel that little frustration,’’ he said. “But at the same time, I believe in my guys. We’re a strong group, and I believe that we can get the job done. It’s just a minor step back. We’re going to continue to stay focused on this week.
Shelton said he hasn’t been given a reason for his sideline sabbatical, but prefers not to dwell on it.
“Obviously I want to be out there,’’ said Shelton, who will be a free agent at season’s end after the Patriots declined to pick up the former first-rounder’s fifth-year option. “But when it’s my time, I’ll be ready.’’
The Steelers downgraded running back James Conner (ankle) to doubtful. The club also activated receiver Eli Rogers from the PUP list. He had an 18-yard catch-and-run touchdown against the Patriots last season . . . Sunday will be the 27th regular-season meeting between the clubs, with the Steelers owning a 14-12 advantage, including a 10-8 mark in Pittsburgh. The franchises have met five times in the postseason with the Patriots holding a 4-1 edge . . . Steelers assistant head coach John Mitchell was Belichick’s defensive line coach with the Browns from 1991-93.