Home Sports Browns expect healthy Odell Beckham Jr. will draw double teams, elevate offense

Browns expect healthy Odell Beckham Jr. will draw double teams, elevate offense


Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt saw enough from Odell Beckham Jr. this week to know that the star receiver will soon be drawing double teams again.

Rehabbing after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in an Oct. 25 game against Cincinnati, Beckham worked on the side Thursday as the Browns concluded their three-day mandatory minicamp. On Tuesday, Beckham participated in individual drills, and on Wednesday he was used in 11-on-11 team drills at a jogging pace.

“Part of the plan. We knew he was going to work two days and take this day off,” Van Pelt said. “The work he did do in the first two days of minicamp was outstanding. He looked really, really good. Says he is feeling better and feeling good.

“I know he is working his butt off to be great. Really impressed with his ability to come back as quickly as he has.”

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) jogs downfield during an NFL football practice at the team's training facility, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Berea, Ohio. [Jeff Lange / Akron Beacon Journal]

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) jogs downfield during an NFL football practice at the team’s training facility, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Berea, Ohio. [Jeff Lange / Akron Beacon Journal]

Beckham caught 23 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns in seven games last season and rushed for a 50-yard score on a three-TD day at Dallas. The anticipated return of the three-time Pro Bowler should open up other areas for the Browns offense.

“Anytime you have a great athlete, you see a lot of coverage roll to that player. That kind of went away when Odell was injured,” Van Pelt said. “That opens it up for other players to be successful.

“It is not always great to be double-teamed all of the time, but sometimes that is going to happen when you are great. I would expect teams to have to honor Odell and, potentially at times, put two guys on him.”

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield put it all together in the second half of the season and Van Pelt said he believes Beckham’s return can help take the Browns to another level.

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“Yeah, I certainly hope so. Anytime you can add a dominant athlete back on the field in your offense, it is only going to help us,” Van Pelt said. “He is an elite player. Not having him out there, we had to fight and claw to continue to have offensive success. I know it is a lot easier when you have great players.”

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) rides an exercise bike as his teammates run drills during an NFL football practice at the team's training facility, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Berea, Ohio. [Jeff Lange / Akron Beacon Journal]

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) rides an exercise bike as his teammates run drills during an NFL football practice at the team’s training facility, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Berea, Ohio. [Jeff Lange / Akron Beacon Journal]

Van Pelt disputed the notion that Mayfield was better without Beckham, that the receiver’s injury took the pressure off the quarterback to get Beckham the ball. Mayfield threw seven interceptions in the first seven games, including one on the play Beckham was injured, and only one the rest of the season.

“I think Baker was better as the season went on, whether there had been Odell or not still out there,” Van Pelt said. “He started to understand the offense more and understand what we were asking him, got his footwork right. He got better, regardless of who was on the field.

“Anytime you take a great player off of the field, you are going to have to find ways to generate more offense. We will be better with Odell, no doubt.”

Alex Van Pelt sees difference in Baker Mayfield

Call Van Pelt pleased with the progress Mayfield has made in the offseason and with what he showed in this week’s mandatory minicamp.

“He was impressive. There are a lot of areas, a lot of pass concepts we wanted work on in this minicamp that maybe he didn’t completely own last year and wanted improvement in these plays,” Van Pelt said. “He’s shown that. A lot of that’s just working through progression and knowing what do next if one and two are covered, and he got that accomplished in this camp. We’re very happy with where he is right now.”

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Mayfield showed marked improvement from the first half of last season to the second. Van Pelt said that success revealed itself this week.

“Definitely. I figure the last seven, eight games last year, he really played really well,” Van Pelt said when asked if Mayfield is more confident. “I think he now feels that. He understands what that looks like and how he has to operate within the system to be successful. Now that he realizes that, you see it more in practice.”

Mayfield transformed his body last offseason and entered training camp in incredible shape. Van Pelt said the QB has provided an encore along those lines.

“He’s in a great spot physically right now,” Van Pelt said. “I know his weight is where he wants it. I want to say it’s probably close to where he came in last year. It’s already there. We still have five weeks to go before he comes back for training camp. I know he works extremely hard at it, and it shows.”

No competition shortage in return game

There is no shortage of competition in the return game, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said Thursday.

Vying for those jobs are wide receiver and former Akron Zips standout JoJo Natson as he returns from a torn ACL, running back D’Ernest Johnson, rookie receiver/running back Demetric Felton and receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Ryan Switzer.

“It’s a wide-open job,” Priefer said, “so we’re going to see what happens here down the road.”

Natson suffered the season-ending knee injury Sept. 27 against the Washington Football Team.

“[Senior vice president of player health and development] Joe Sheehan and our medical staff have done a great job of getting him ready. He has worked extremely hard, and they have worked extremely hard with him,” Priefer said. “We just have to trust their judgment. If they say he’s 100%, we’re going to throw everything at him, get him in the preseason games and see what he can do.”

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Priefer said Felton is being trained to return kickoffs and punts.

“I don’t think he has tremendous speed, but he has good speed,” Priefer said of Felton. “What he needs to use are his strengths, use his quickness, use his ability to be a playmaker and use his ability to be very versatile. I truly believe he has an opportunity to be a dual returner, and I truly believe he can help us as a gunner and on kickoff coverage because he has the right mindset, he likes the game, he’s tough, he’s available and he’s accountable.”

An obvious candidate to throw in the mix is rookie receiver Anthony Schwartz, a former track standout who possesses 4.26 speed but has little experience. Priefer said the Browns worked him on punt returns early on, but the third-round draft pick suffered a hamstring injury. He sat out all of mandatory minicamp.

“I would love for him to develop into a kickoff returner,” Priefer said of Schwartz. “He has explosive speed. He has a lot of confidence in his speed. I was joking with him that we could actually have someone catch it and then we could hand it to him and let him take off with the ball. I would like to teach him to get to the point where he is comfortable catching kickoffs out there. I would also like to use him as a gunner.”

Browns DT provides Juneteenth lesson

Browns defensive tackle Malik Jackson celebrated Juneteenth a bit early by donating 250 books dealing with the subject of the day celebrated as Black America’s independence day.

“All Different Now: Juneteenth the First Day of Freedom,” written by Angela Johnson and illustrated E.B. Lewis is a picture book telling the story of the first Juneteenth, the day when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to emancipate approximately 250,000 slaves.

“I’m excited to donate these books because it’s important to me for the next generation of African Americans to know that we are free,” Jackson said in a news release. “Juneteenth is a symbolic reminder of the over 200 years of oppression in this country that we have overcome and we should not only draw strength but most importantly educate our present about our past to ensure a brighter future.”

The principal and staff at George Washington Carver Elementary School in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District distributed the books Thursday.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Browns’ Odell Beckham Jr. returning to form after torn ACL

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