Alex Van Pelt doesn't need to say much to convey just how crucial it will be to have Odell Beckham Jr. back on the field in 2021.
Beckham, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 7 last season, returned for minicamp practice this week and showcased the same blend of speed, smoothness and swag that has made him an elite NFL receiver. Van Pelt, the Browns' offensive coordinator, saw plenty to believe Beckham is in for a big return this season.
But what excited Van Pelt most is how Beckham's return could set the stage for a big year from, well, everyone on offense.
"We will be better with Odell, no doubt," he said Thursday in a video call with local reporters. "He is an elite player. Not having him out there, we had to fight and claw to continue to have offensive success."
Check out exclusive photos of minicamp
Before his injury, Beckham recorded three touchdowns on 23 receptions for 319 yards and was a go-to weapon for quarterback Baker Mayfield and head coach Kevin Stefanski. His deep-ball presence and ability to make big plays in big moments was one reason why the Browns opened 2020 with a 4-2 record, which set them on track for the playoffs the rest of the year.
Who could forget Beckham's 43-yard touchdown in Thursday Night Football in Week 2 against the Bengals? Or his 50-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter Week 4 against the Cowboys, when he was nearly tackled 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage but weaved his way to the end zone to seal the win.
Those plays are what Van Pelt can't wait to see again when Beckham returns for his first game.
"Anytime you can add a dominant athlete back on the field in your offense, it's only going to help us," he said.
Van Pelt believes Beckham's return will open holes for the rest of the Browns passing attack. Ever since Beckham arrived in Cleveland, defenses have needed to provide additional coverage to his side of the field to prevent deep ball opportunities and ensure Beckham has minimal one-on-one opportunities with defenders.
When Beckham was injured, Van Pelt noticed those coverage plans went away. Yet the Browns still found a way to elevate their passing game — Mayfield threw 11 touchdowns and one interception in the second half of the season, and Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge all stepped up to fill the void.
Now, Beckham's presence could create even more space for those receivers to thrive again.
"Anytime you have a great athlete, you see a lot of coverage roll to that player," Van Pelt said. "It's not always great to be double teamed all of the time, but sometimes, that's going to happen when you're great.
"I would expect teams to have to honor Odell, and potentially at times, put two guys on him."
Beckham provided plenty of examples throughout the week to prove his speed and juke abilities won't be affected by his knee injury. He participated in several reps Tuesday and Wednesday and displayed the same smooth technique and one-handed catch ability that has made him one of the top receivers in the league.
The next steps will arrive in training camp, and Van Pelt knows that everyone on the offense will have a chance to grow with Beckham back with them.
"You are always better with great players," he said.