CLEVELAND — Antonio Callaway’s career with the Cleveland Browns got off to a rocky start as the fourth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft was cited in Strongsville for driving with a suspended license and marijuana possession in the early-morning hours on a day off from training camp.
But despite the early mistake extending a pattern of off-the-field incidents from his time at the University of Florida that dropped his stock in the draft, Callaway turned in a solid rookie season with 43 receptions for 586 yards, five touchdowns and 27 first downs in 16 games.
Callaway seems ready to build on those numbers in 2019, and both his coaches and teammates have taken notice.
“I think Antonio has had a great spring,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said following the final practice of the offseason program.
“I think everybody would agree, right? He has been really, really good. I am really excited about Antonio coming back. From a knowledge standpoint, from knowing what to do, when to do it, and then, actually doing it, he has done very well.”
Callaway proved especially adept at being a down-the-field threat for the Browns, as he caught eight 20-yard passes and three 40-yard throws.
Callaway showed plenty of speed on the field during the preseason, but went without a pass thrown in his direction during the 21-21 tie against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2018 regular-season opener at FirstEnergy Stadium.
However, with the Browns deactivating Josh Gordon the day because of a hamstring injury, Callaway made the most of his opportunities, hauling in three passes for a team-best 81 yards and one touchdown in a Week 2 loss to the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Needing a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to tie the game against the Saints, the Browns faced a fourth-and-five from their opponent’s 47-yard line and quarterback Tyrod Taylor trusted both his arm strength and Callaway’s speed.
Taylor aired out a throw over the middle of the field and found Callaway behind the coverage of a New Orleans defensive back in stride in the middle of the end zone for the tying touchdown.
“He is in good shape relative to what he was in last year during training camp,” Kitchens said. “He has added some explosiveness. He has been catching the ball really well. He is doing a good job. Just like everybody else, he has to continue. It is, ‘What can you do for me tomorrow, not today? Today is over.”
Callaway showed game-changing speed in a late-season road loss to the Houston Texans when he was on the receiving end of a 76-yard pass that unfortunately, was wiped out by a holding penalty, and followed it up with a 71-yard reception that ended in a fumble.
But those miscues have motivated Callaway, and his teammates sense a big year could be coming his way in 2019.
“He’s taken a huge step,” offensive lineman Joel Bitonio said. “He seems focused on football. I think when he first got here, there was a lot going on. He was drafted, and then, had some stuff, but he seems real focused on football.
“You always need that deep threat. Odell’s a great receiver. Jarvis is a great receiver, and Odell can do anything on a football field, but you also want that guy that can take the roof off the defense and really open it up for the tight ends and everybody else.”