At this time last year, Antonio Callaway was fresh off a year-plus hiatus from football. The talent was evident, but there was understandably some rust to overcome.
As the first week of Browns OTAs came to a close Thursday, it was evident just how far Callaway has come and how much potential remains after a rookie season in which he led the team in receiving touchdowns and finished third in yards.
No matter who was talking Wednesday, the answers about Callaway’s development made it clear how much of a better spot he’s in one year after Cleveland made him a fourth-round pick.
“He is in good shape relative to what he was in last year during training camp. He has added some explosiveness,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said Wednesday. “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. “
Tomorrow is more promising than it’s been in a long while for Cleveland’s wide receiving corps. The acquisition of All-Pro Odell Beckham Jr. was the cherry on top for a group that showed significant improvement in 2018, spearheaded by Beckham’s best friend, Jarvis Landry, who was similarly acquired via trade.
Callaway’s rookie season had its ups and downs, and the Week 3 trade of Josh Gordon put more on his plate than many envisioned considering all of the time he spent away from football. He was at his best near the end of the season and finished with 43 catches, 586 yards and five touchdowns, catching the last of Baker Mayfield’s NFL rookie record 27 touchdown passes.
An improved version of Callaway only helps a Cleveland offense that hopes to be even more potent than it was during the second half of last season, when it was one of the league’s most efficient and entertaining units.
“It’s kind of pick your poison now,” Mayfield said. “We have some pretty good talent all around – tight ends, running backs, receivers and then going in with the same offensive line. We have a good team. Now, it is what are we going to do with it.”
Check out photos from the third day of OTA practices
Callaway’s raw talent and ability have never been in question.
In his two seasons at the University of Florida, he shined as a do-it-all weapon, catching 89 passes for nearly 1,400 yards while adding yards and touchdowns on the ground, on special teams and even through the air (he threw a 2-yard touchdown pass during his freshman season). Off-the-field issues caught up with Callaway, though, and ultimately made him available on Day 3.
A full year committed to his craft has made a world of difference, and the Browns can’t wait to see the impact of another few intensive months.
“I think I can speak for a few people, we have been very pleasantly and very happy with how he came back from the offseason ready to go. Just how quick he is and you can tell he has been working on his craft. That is very exciting to see that,” Mayfield said. “You bring in a guy like Odell and you re-sign some guys, and he is going to try and compete with them. That is the most important part. Competition brings out the best in them and Callaway is doing that.”