Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Now you see him. Now you don’t.
Odell Beckham Jr. looked great, as expected, in his first OTA practice in the Browns offense – according to club employees who were there on Tuesday. But when the media arrived on Day 2, Beckham, reprising The Eagles’ 1974 classic hit, was Already Gone.
The Browns were not surprised by Beckham’s one-and-done participation in the first week of OTAs.
They’re hoping they get at least one day from Beckham in each of the last two weeks of OTAs, though they won’t say when they expect him back. They have had discussions with him about his plans for voluntary OTAs. And they are sure he’ll be in for the duration of mandatory minicamp June 4-6.
There never has been any question about Beckham’s conditioning, or his ability to glide effortlessly through pass routes, or his ability to make catches nobody else can make, or his happiness with his new landing spot after the dust settled from the shocking trade with the Giants on March 12.
But the issue for this time of year is building team chemistry and team camaraderie, and it was interesting to hear both coach Freddie Kitchens and quarterback Baker Mayfield walk the fine line between not offending Beckham while expressing the importance of being here.
Building the team: I expected Kitchens to dismiss questions about Beckham’s absence with the typical, “Let’s talk about the players who are here.” He did not.
“I think we are collectively trying to come together and help each other out as we practice,” he said. “That started back during meetings and stuff like that.
“Listen, I have never disputed the fact that it is not important for him to be here, but it is also important for him to be mentally ready to be here. I’m not giving him an out by any stretch of imagination, and nobody here knows the conversations that Odell and I have.
“I’m just saying it is better for him to be here when he can present his best self – emotionally, physically, everything. Odell Beckham is going to be here in the fall, and he is going to be a good football player in the fall just like he has been.
“We just need to incorporate it into a team setting and move forward with the Cleveland Browns, and that is what we are going to become. Are we there yet? No. Whether Odell is here or not here, we are not going to be the Browns yet. We are going to be the Browns when we line up in September.”
Jarvis Landry was on hand but did not participate in practice. When a reporter asked Kitchens if veteran wideouts like Beckham and Landry can just step in and contribute when needed, the coach wouldn’t bite.
“Well, it is not that easy,” he said. “Odell understands that he has a lot of work to do in minicamp and in training camp. He understands that. Jarvis understands that. Jarvis isn’t just sitting out of practice, either. We don’t have to issue any kind of statements as far as why people are out or in or whatever. It is not like you are going to step into it. There is still work to be done. We still have six weeks of training camp.”
Baker’s views: Mayfield said it was “really great” to have Beckham on hand for at least the first OTA on Tuesday “because right now it’s about getting to know each other, getting the basics of our offense down, and accomplish those things.”
Like Kitchens, Mayfield would not buy into the concept that Beckham can just show up anytime and be totally on the same page as the others.
“That’s the type of talent he is, but at the same time we have to work for it,” Mayfield said. “It’s not just going to happen. That’s why you have things like minicamp in June and also training camp. We have the whole summer to be able to throw. Like I said, it’s about learning the offense and getting on the same page.”
In response to a question, Mayfield indicated he would not pull rank as quarterback of the team and try to persuade Beckham to stick it out through OTAs.
“You let a guy like that be him,” Mayfield said. “Everybody has their routine. Stick to what’s working. Obviously for him, it’s been working for a while. He’s going to do what he’s going to do. You’ve got to trust that he’s going to be there when it matters. We know who he is.”
What about Duke?: Contrary to reports, running back Duke Johnson did not report to the facility or participate in the first two days of voluntary OTAs. Johnson has asked the Browns to trade him. The Browns insist they have a needy role for Johnson to fill despite the addition of Kareem Hunt, who will miss the first eight games in a league suspension.
“I communicate with Duke often, or a few times, couple times a week, probably,” Kitchens said. “But it’s voluntary. There’s nothing I can say. I think what we need to do as a league, if we want to keep bringing these things up, is make it mandatory. But it’s voluntary.
“Duke will show up and he’ll know what to do. I fully expect him to be here in minicamp. He knows what’s on the line and he’ll be back with us in training camp, and I guess we’ll see where we go from there.
“I’d be lying to say that I wasn’t disappointed that we don’t have everybody here. I want everybody here. Because I do think it’s important to be here. But it’s their option. But they understand what they have to do once they come here. All of them are going to be ready to play.”
If everything goes right for the Browns, none of this will matter in September. But on the second day of voluntary OTAs in the middle of May, it was enough of an issue for the coach and the quarterback to comment on.