It’s not easy defending Odell Beckham Jr. on the gridiron. It’s also not easy being his coach or teammate.
The talented Giants wide receiver operates on the edge. His passion and intensity fuel him on the field, where he rides that fine line between fervor and fury. Channeling his emotion is part of what makes him a dynamic weapon. But that emotion also gets him into trouble. It’s become all too obvious how to get inside his head and take him out of the game. Every weekend opponents now physically and mentally target OBJ. Until he learns to laugh at their tactics or walk away, they’ll keep coming.
The 23-year-old Beckham attracts attention wherever he goes. His speed down the sidelines and jaw-dropping one-handed grabs make him a match-up nightmare. His shock of blond curly hair and boundless energy make him camera friendly. His stats are undeniable: over 3,000 yards on 209 receptions, and he’s only a month into his third NFL season. He already has 25 touchdowns, including “The Catch” against the Dallas Cowboys that vaulted him to stardom early in his rookie campaign. Fellow Giants and the coaching staff rave about his unbridled desire to compete, to get better, to win. The sky’s the limit for OBJ… as soon as he becomes less predictable.
Cornerback Josh Norman gave the NFL a blueprint for battling Beckham. By jawing and yacking at him, by talking trash, by poking and prodding him, they press his buttons enough that he loses his mental edge. He starts worrying more about the defenders than about being on the same page with his quarterback. In Norman’s high-profile war with Beckham last season, the receiver so completely lost his cool that he went after Norman on the field and later earned a one-game suspension from the league. Did Norman instigate? Absolutely. Did it work? Absolutely.
Vikings corner Xavier Rhodes used the same tactics on Monday night. Bump into OBJ out of bounds, talk smack, apply a little pressure and wait for him to react. Rhodes was like the little brother who won’t stop jabbing you in the backseat of the car when your mom’s not paying attention. And his efforts were successful. Not only did Odell pick up a taunting penalty (however weak), he also dropped a long bomb from Manning, ran a route his QB wasn’t expecting and finished with a career-low 23 yards.
After the game, Beckham said the officials are looking at him, throwing flags with no explanation, that he needs to protect himself. “I just gotta know that it’s all against me.” His reputation definitely precedes him. With a half-dozen fines to his credit, the refs anticipate his emotional outbursts. They’re quicker with the flags because they know his potential. They even warned him and Norman about mixing it up before the Giants-Redskins clash in Week 3. Manning agrees the officials are looking for Odell, so he must be smart.
Beckham no longer gets the benefit of the doubt. With his track record, no matter the reason for his emotions on the field, many people will jump to the conclusion that he’s a headache, a distraction, a diva, even a bum. OBJ needs to reach a point where he no longer cares what anyone says about him, on OR off the field.
How does he flip the script? Stop responding to the defenders who antagonize him. Burn them with his speed and run such perfect routes that they can’t afford to waste time talking. Recognize that cornerbacks only have so many tricks they can use. Even the annoying little brother in the backseat eventually stops jabbing you when he gets ignored.
Following the Giants’ Monday night loss to Minnesota, Beckham had a private meeting with Giants general manager Jerry Reese. New head coach Ben McAdoo indicated the receiver needs to keep his emotions in check after OBJ got into an altercation with a kicking net on the sidelines last week. The receiver’s emotion drives him and gives him an edge. It can be his greatest strength; it can also be his greatest weakness.
At 23 years old, OBJ is still learning to harness his intensity on the sport’s biggest stage. At this point in his career, the Giants don’t get the 100-yard games without the agitation. He’s certainly high maintenance. And if he weren’t so good, his team might not bother. He earns superstar treatment because of those flashy receptions. One former NFL head coach puts it this way: “All players are treated fairly; not all players are treated equally.”
Despite the negative headlines, Beckham is still worth the investment. He’s an otherworldly talent, one that 31 teams in the league would be happy to take off the Giants’ payroll immediately. New York needs his production. And his passion, desire, energy and zeal are part of the package. They’re all positive qualities Odell can use to his advantage. His unwavering dedication and commitment to his craft can help him draw the line. He’s proven he’ll put in the work to be a better receiver, and this is a necessary part of the process. Now is the time for OBJ to figure it out.
A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @.