Antonio Callaway had a rough start to his preseason debut.
The rookie wide receiver from Florida had three catchable balls fall incomplete in the first half, and it looked like he would struggle from start to finish in his first NFL action.
At halftime, wide receivers coach Adam Henry told Callaway he was thinking about the game too much, and he wasn’t playing. It calmed Callaway down, and then, the second half happened.
In the second half, Callaway showed the Browns why they drafted him. Two of his three catches came in the second half, including one he took 54 yards to the end zone for his first professional touchdown, a slant route and dart from fellow rookie Baker Mayfield.
“I just had to talk to Coach Henry a bit and let him calm me down,” Callaway said. “I was just a little anxious and excited.”
Although the nerves got to him, he calmed down and finished with three catches on seven targets for 87 yards and the aforementioned touchdown catch-and-run.
Browns coach Hue Jackson knows Callaway has ability, as seen in the second half. But Callaway hadn’t played a down of competitive football for over a year. There were bound to be nerves, and there were. Jackson figured as the game progressed, Callaway would get better, and he did just that.
“He hadn’t played football in quite a while,” Jackson said. “To be out there with the ones and playing, getting after it a little bit, I think that was different. I think he settled down in the second half and started to play football.”
After the Browns traded Corey Coleman, it was presumed that Callaway would start with the first-team offense against the Giants, which he did. But he wasn’t targeted by starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor. All seven came from Mayfield.
And as much attention as the touchdown is garnering, it wasn’t the play that turned the most heads. The play that did, however, was almost not a play at all.
On a third-and-seven in the third quarter, Mayfield scrambled right; Callaway broke toward the sideline. Mayfield fired a pinpoint pass along the sideline to a diving Callaway, who tiptoed out of bounds. The play was initially ruled incomplete, but was later overturned by review.
The overturned call resulted in a 26-yard gain, a first down and a glimpse into the future of two rookies connecting.
“I think he was catching his breath a bit, but it’s just focusing on doing his job and his job only,” Mayfield said of Callaway. “The execution, when he did it right, obviously it showed so I think it was just focusing in, realizing he didn’t have to worry about too much, just doing his job.”
After the events of the past week, Callaway needed a game like he had against the Giants.
Before the game, general manager John Dorsey said he and Jackson met late Tuesday with Callaway, who was cited for marijuana possession and a suspended driver’s license Sunday morning by Strongsville Police, and outlined Cleveland’s expectations going forward. Later that night, Callaway addressed the team and apologized for his actions, telling the players he “had their backs.”
Thursday’s performance was a start, helping shed some of the negative light he brought upon himself in the last week. He’s ready to put that incident behind him.
“I’m 100 percent committed to the Browns,” Callaway said.
On the field and off the field, Dorsey urged Callaway was “a little bit of a work in progress.” Thursday’s second half certainly counted as progress.