GATES MILLS, Ohio — Browns training camp starts this week in Berea, and perhaps no one is looking forward to it more than Odell Beckham Jr.
"[I'm] just excited to be back," the wide receiver said Sunday during his Youth Football ProCamp at Gilmour Academy in Gates Mills. "Excited to see all the boys."
It's been a long road back for the two-time All-Pro, who played in just seven games last season due to a torn ACL. Months of rehab and physical therapy followed, and while the 28-year-old may still have to wait to resume full activities, the progress he has made since the gruesome injury has both himself and fans optimistic he can return to his top form.
"I feel like I don't have anything to prove except for myself and to be the best," Beckham said, noting he feels his mental state has also improved since getting hurt. "I want to be able to have the best season I can possibly have."
Beckham's first season with Cleveland in 2019 was marred by inconsistencies and losing streaks, and while he got off to a stronger start in 2020, the ACL tear on the team's first pass in Week 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals brought his campaign to a crashing halt. All Beckham could do was watch from the sidelines as the Browns marched to the postseason before eventually beating the Pittsburgh Steelers for their first playoff win since 1994.
"The one game that hurt me the most was watching Kansas City," Beckham remembered, referring to Cleveland's 22-17 divisional round loss to the eventual AFC champions. "I know that I could've made one play, just one play to help the team."
"OBJ" is one of the reasons many analysts see the Browns as one of the NFL's top contenders in 2021, but others have wondered about his true value to the organization, especially after Baker Mayfield and the offense started clicking without him during last year's stretch run. The chatter has led to trade rumors throughout the last two offseasons, speculation general manager Andrew Berry has repeatedly dismissed.
"I make very dangerous plays," Beckham said when asked about what he can bring to the offense. "I think it was just a matter of time before everything [on offense] got rolling, which it did, so I'm excited to be back, be a part of that."
And make no mistake: Beckham is just as confident as anyone when it comes to this team's potential.
"There's just something that feels special about this team," he said. "Cleveland needs a championship, and I think that's the goal, that's the mentality in that building, and that's what I want to be a part of."