BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns used last Thursday’s preseason opener against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, to send a message to rookie wide receiver Antonio Callaway.

Cited early in the week for misdemeanor possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license in the Cleveland suburb of Strongsville, Callaway played nearly the entire game against the Giants, which is uncommon for any top-line player at any time during the preseason.

“Absolutely, that was the plan,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said following Sunday’s practice, which Callaway missed because of a rib injury.

“I was trying to make him play the whole game, if we could. I didn’t want him to come out. That was part of the consequence of what he’d been through, and he knows that. That’s what it was. Either you sit him or make him play. I thought it was better to make him play, make him play as long as he could.”

Jackson kept Callaway on the field despite early struggles holding onto the ball, as he had multiple passes ricochet off of his hands and fall incomplete, but something changed after halftime. After shaking off the drops, Callaway ended up leading the way with 87 yards on three catches, one of them went for a game-best 54-yard touchdown.

Midway through the third quarter, the Browns were backed up at their own 22-yard line, and on third-and-seven, the Giants sent heavy pressure, which forced rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield to scramble out to his right and throw down the field off of his back foot.

Hustling toward the sideline, Callaway hauled in the catch, but was ruled out of bounds. However, the Browns challenged the call on the field and were awarded a first down at their own 46-yard line after video evidence proved Callaway secured the catch and got both feet down in bounds for a 24-yard gain.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Browns faced a third-and-four from their own 46-yard line, and Mayfield again went to Callaway, this time on a slant route from the right side of the formation to the middle of the field.

After catching the pass and shaking loose from the first defender just beyond midfield, Callaway stutter-stepped his way around another tackle attempt and sprinted the final 47 yards for the lead-extending touchdown.

Last week’s incident was the latest in a long history for Callaway, who was selected in the fourth round because of his off-the-field issues despite game-breaking ability.

Callaway was suspended for Florida’s 2016 spring practices during a sexual assault investigation, although he was later cleared of three charges by a Title IX hearing officer.

In July of 2017, Callaway pleaded no contest to possession of drug paraphernalia, and then, was suspended for the entire 2017 season when it was discovered he used stolen credit card information to make purchases at the school’s bookstore.

Additionally, Callaway had a diluted drug test sample at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, which, under league rules, counts as a failed test.

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Cleveland Browns wide receiver Antonio Callaway (11) runs for a touchdown in front of New York Giants defensive backs Orion Stewart (45) and Leonard Johnson (29) during the second half at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Vincent Carchietta

“There were a couple times where he kept waving to come out, and we said, ‘No, stay in there,’” Jackson said.

“He worked through it because there were times I’m sure he had his hands on his head like this (raises his arms up) and he was ready to go to the sideline. We go, ‘Uh uh, you’re back in there.’ He fought through it, came out on the other side of it and made some plays, so that was good.”

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