'Got to come out and fight again': Cleveland Browns' Odell Beckham Jr. says recovery included 'spiritual reconstruction'
BEREA — When Odell Beckham Jr. arrived at the EXOS Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine center in Arizona, he found “ACL rehab” written beside his name.
“I told them to change it to spiritual reconstruction,” he said.
Undergoing his third surgery in four years on Nov. 10, the Browns star receiver wasn’t just trying to put his 28-year-old body back together after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Oct. 25. His mind, his outlook, his soul needed work.
“Mentally it’s tough to stay in it when it has been year after year after year,” Beckham said Thursday. “Especially when you started out so fast and had all the goals of Jerry Rice and all these things and you’re slowly just crushed by injury. It’s just hard to mentally and spiritually stay strong throughout all of it.”
Beckham could make his comeback Sunday against the Chicago Bears at FirstEnergy Stadium. Fully participating in practice for the first time Wednesday, he said he feels good and is taking it day by day. He was a full participant in practice again Thursday.
Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said he expects Beckham’s participation to be a game-time decision and if he plays, Beckham will be on a pitch count.
“The competitive guys like he is they want to be on the field a lot when the juices get flowing. But we just have to be smart. It’s a long season and he’s just coming back,” Van Pelt said Thursday. “Can’t expect him to come out and have a huge day first time back, we’ve just got to ease him back into it if he does make it to the game. I think he’s aware of that as well as we are as coaches.”
Speaking for the first time in a team setting since before he was injured in a 2020 game at Cincinnati, Beckham said he’s in “a way better place.”
“This is just my soul that I need to work on…” he said. “My energy, the way that I approach a situation, the way that I approach anything that goes on, I just have a positive outlook.
“This is the third time going through surgery and it’s just a different feeling. The first time when I came back from the ankle, it was tough to overcome that. I felt like this time it was a lot easier of a process, more of a spiritual healing I would say.”
In his first three seasons with the New York Giants, Beckham caught 35 touchdown passes and totaled 4,122 receiving yards. But in 2017, he hurt his ankle in a preseason game against the Browns when he was undercut on a tackle by defensive back Breian Boddy-Calhoun. Beckham missed the regular-season opener and played in four games before going on injured reserve.
The way Beckham sees it, the hernia surgery he underwent after the 2019 season, his first in Cleveland, and his torn ACL all stemmed from the ankle injury, which he said was the toughest operation of the three. Since the first surgery, he’s totaled 13 receiving touchdowns, seven with the Browns.
“It was being the first time you’ve ever been truly injured injured,” Beckham said of 2017. “The doc who I worked with since I came into the league said that could’ve been a career-ender.
“The ankle will never be the same, it’ll never move the same, you’ve got a plate and nine screws, tightropes in there, complete tear of all the ligaments on the inside … it was hard to come back from. It kind of led to other injuries. You know how the body works, it goes right up the chain.”
Should Beckham return Sunday, it would give the Browns a boost after Jarvis Landry, Beckham’s close friend and Louisiana State teammate, suffered an MCL injury in his knee last weekend against the Houston Texans. Landry was placed on injured reserve Tuesday and must sit out at least three games.
“It's like playing phone tag with your best friend,” Beckham said. “I went down in the season last year and we dreamed of being on the same team in the NFL and playing together. And then the week where I feel like, ‘Alright, let's start, let's look at it,’ then he goes down.
“He's a guy who can't be replaced, his energy, his presence on this team as a leader, captain on this team. Just wishing him to get back as fast as possible. This is a dream come true for us.”
Left guard Joel Bitonio said Beckham’s possible return would be timely.
“Any time you can put another dynamic playmaker on the field, I think it’s really an exciting step for our offense,” Bitonio said. “Obviously it hurts losing Jarvis for a couple weeks, but getting Odell back lessens the blow a little bit.”
Beckham said before the NFL schedule came out, the plan for his return was 11 months after surgery; he’s now at 10½. There was much speculation that he would play in the season opener Sept. 12 at Kansas City, but Beckham was deemed inactive after pregame warmups.
“I started to progress faster and faster and I was definitely itching,” Beckham said. “I wanted to go against that team, but it just didn’t happen that day. I’m just following God’s plan and he’s put me in a good place to be here right now … Whenever it is, I know I’ll be excited. I’ve worked extremely hard to not only get back, but improve and to try and be better than I ever have been.”
As daunting as another rehab was, Beckham said he never thought about retirement.
“You’ve seen the stories when I was 23, 24 years old and talking about just being done with the game,” he said. “This time it never really crossed my mind. I wasn’t going to give up. I’m not the kind of fighter who got knocked out on the last fight and I’m going to hang it up. I’ve got to come out and fight again.”
Beckham said he wasn’t driven just by the people he plays for — “my family, mom, my people, my girl” — but also by young people who idolize him and practice the one-handed catch he made famous. He remembered playing at halftime in the Georgia Dome when he was about 7 years old and he met one of his favorites, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.
“I remember the moment I got to meet him and he treated me with nothing but love, like respect,” Beckham said. “That’s what I wanted to be for somebody, knowing that I was going to inspire somebody to come chase their dream and 10, 15, 20 years from now, be in the NFL. I know that I have a responsibility and I don’t take it lightly.
"For the kids out there who have that feeling of wanting to give up on something, that's all I can think about is what message would I send to them by giving up now because I haven't reached the goals that I wanted to reach. The accomplishments, the things that I set are still not out of sight for me, so I just find a way to keep going."
Beckham said his spiritual reconstruction is "evolving." He knows that more adversity and trials will test him. But he found positivity even on an unusually cold, blustery September afternoon.
“It was a gloomy day and I come out here and then the sun starts shining, you know,” he said. “It’s about how you look at it. I’ve got a different aura about me at the moment.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about the Browns at www.beaconjournal.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.
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