Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
During the height of Odell Beckham Jr.’s mostly two-month absence from his new team, Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said he wanted the mercurial receiver to show up when “mentally ready … when he can present his best self – emotionally, physically, everything.”
Well, Beckham complied.
On the second day of mandatory minicamp, Beckham bared his soul in a 20-minute discourse with local and national media, concluding, “Mentally, physically, spiritually, I’ve grown to a different place. People that know me know I’m in a place I’ve never been in my entire life. And I’m just happy with where I’m at.”
Unlike at his introductory press conference on April 1, when he appeared emotionally-drained and jet-lagged and spoke softly – promptly some to wrongly conclude that he was unhappy with the trade -- Beckham exuded energy and excitement about the new chapter in his career he is about to write.
On the field for the first two days with his new teammates, which include lifetime friend Jarvis Landry looking on from the sideline with an undisclosed injury, and new friend Baker Mayfield delivering him the ball with laser throws, Beckham has displayed both his breath-taking physical ability and his under-rated mental acuity to absorb a new offense almost solely from long distance I-pad study.
All of which has Beckham “almost giddy” about the present and future.
“I feel like a little kid, the excitement that I have, seeing Baker, seeing the guys,” Beckham said. “We talk a lot about this offense, but this defense is something special. And this team is really coming together. The good part about it is it’s only June. Still got a whole training camp to go through.
“I feel this team is really going to come together. I’m beyond excited about an opportunity I have to just start over [with] a new team.”
Ancient history: And so, the debate over Beckham’s protracted absence from OTAs while he globe-trotted and mentally and emotionally adjusted to the life-changing trade from the New York Giants to the Browns, ends on a positive note, continuing the trend of this Browns season-to-be.
“I know my body better than anybody else. I know what it takes to get me in top physical condition, mental and all of those things,” Beckham explained of his prolonged absence. “This is not my first rodeo. It is not my first go-round. I just know what it takes to get there.
“Coach and I had a different plan than everybody else knows. We talked and communicated throughout the entire offseason, so he knew my whereabouts and when I’d be here and coming in and when I wouldn’t be … everybody kind of knew the game plan. [I was] just taking my time, easing back into it. The good thing about is we play in September.”
Beckham’s excitement is rooted in a few things.
He mentioned the under-radar defense that Kitchens keeps touting to deaf ears in the media. He mentioned his reunion with boyhood soul mate Landry. And there is no denying the joy he sees in receiving passes from Mayfield, who is the polar opposite of the quarterback Beckham left behind in New York, Eli Manning.
“I’ve watched Baker since Oklahoma,” Beckham said. “I think it’s the confidence he carries himself with. You can’t coach that on anybody. That’s something that comes within you and it’s on display always. I know you guys see it. You have to love that about him.
“Also, I have to get adjusted to the speed because he’s got an arm. He’s throwing the ball hard. So just catching him from the first day, it’s completely different.”
Another refreshing difference to Beckham is Mayfield’s unapologetic leadership style, on display the day before when Mayfield publicly challenged unhappy Duke Johnson to “be a professional … do your job.”
“It’s definitely different,” Beckham said. “I feel … no, I know I’m always going to back him, right, wrong or indifferent. [Like] the old [Terrell Owens] joke – ‘that’s my quarterback.’ That’s my guy.
“Baker was a friend, a brother, to me before I got to this team. I’m always going to back him. For him to speak his mind, it’s always good for the leader of your team to have that and everybody follow that lead. If he steers off, that’s what this team is [here for] to guide him on the right path. But I don’t see him doing anything too wrong. He speaks his mind. Freedom of speech. I personally love it.”
Winning’s the thing: Above all, Beckham sees the Browns as his ticket to something that has eluded him – a championship.
“All my life, I’ve never really been a champion,” he said.
Beckham told the story of having a buzzer-beating basketball shot by him denied by a referee in a sixth-grade basketball championship game.
“I’m running around, like, ‘I won a championship.’ It felt great. And they called it off and they told me it was no good. I remember crying the entire night. So I want to win. I want to be a champion,” he said.
The sideline histrionics of his Giants days imbued in everyone’s mind clearly was the product of frustration from losing.
The trade to the Browns, Beckham totally believes, is the best thing that could have happened to him.
“I just see the potential of this team,” he said. “What I’ve learned is to take it one game at a time. But I do see a lot of potential in this team. Not because I’m here. I mean, I really feel it.
“And I feel something in the air, something special that Cleveland hasn’t had for a while. And I’m happy to be a part of it.”