Nate Burleson is still in the NFL, so he can’t complain about life.
And he hopes to show the Lions what they’re missing when his Cleveland Browns open the exhibition schedule at Ford Field on Saturday night.
“Once I put on a different jersey, those Lions players, they’re just the opposition,” the former Lions receiver told The News this week. “I’m going to talk a lot of crap, but I think there’s going to be a little bit of emotion tied into seeing the fans because I get a lot of appreciation from the fans still.
“So that might be difficult to handle, but the best I can do is score a touchdown and give them credit.”
During the offseason, Burleson considered retiring and had offers from networks to be an analyst, but now he’s in Cleveland and ready to contribute for the Browns in his 12th NFL season. So far in camp, he’s been playing the No. 3 receiver role behind Josh Gordon and Miles Austin, and if Gordon is suspended for the season for failing multiple drug tests, Burleson could have an even bigger role.
“I’m still running around, still getting open, still catching the ball,” Burleson said. “As long as I can catch the ball and get open, I’m fine with it. The moment I can’t get off the line of scrimmage and I’m dropping every ball thrown to me, that’s when I’m going to seriously have to consider getting another job.”
Burleson, an outspoken and vibrant leader, spent the past four seasons in Detroit and had 73 catches for 757 yards in 2011 to help the Lions reach the postseason. But injuries derailed the veteran each of the past two seasons, and the Lions ultimately decided to cut him in February, which saved $5.5 million in salary cap space for 2014.
After being in the league so long, Burleson understood the business side of the decision, but he still thought he had more to offer for an NFL team. He had offers from the Browns and Miami Dolphins and signed a one-year deal with Cleveland.
Burleson, who still runs Lionblood Clothing Co., said he stays in touch with his former teammates in Detroit, and receiver Calvin Johnson started a text conversation with him a few days ago.
“It was really good to get a text from a guy like that because even though he’s one of my friends, he’s still Megatron,” Burleson said.
Johnson and Burleson exchanged texts for about 30 to 45 minutes, and Burleson admitted he was a little sentimental.
“I just told him, ‘Man, I miss you guys,’” he said. “It’s a little different being with a whole new squad of receivers, but I’ve got a good group over here. I still chat with (Johnson) quite a bit. It’s like family.
“And I’m going to go off on the family (on Saturday).”
Offensive lineman Darren Keyton sat Thursday after suffering an elbow injury Wednesday, but he doesn’t expect it to be serious.
…Offensive lineman Rodney Austin left practice Thursday with an injury, but said he expects to return Friday.
…Linebacker Cory Greenwood missed his second straight practice with an excused absence.
…Defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who is on the physically unable to perform list, looked healthy as his work on the side of the field ramped up even more Thursday. The 2013 first-round pick ran around a row of blocking pads, swinging one of his arms firmly through each pad and showing no weakness in his left shoulder.