Right around this time a year ago, most NFL fans couldn’t go a day without hearing something about the Cleveland Browns.
The team’s ticket sales department was flooded with interested buyers and had to start a wait list before long. Jerseys flew off the racks, even when the most-coveted top — the Color Rush Odell Beckham Jr. No. 13 shirt — wasn’t easy to find. But all of the excitement didn’t get the Browns much more than what a season spent filling only 1 p.m. ET time slots usually did: painful defeats, long losing streaks and a sputtering finish that had people more focused on Christmas gifts and the spring’s draft than football in December.
There are reasons for the failure known as 2019. Cleveland struggled to establish an identity under one-and-done coach Freddie Kitchens, an offensive line hiding weaknesses could no longer keep those under wraps, and the Browns’ top two weapons — Beckham and best friend Jarvis Landry — each battled through injuries. Beckham says now that he’s had an offseason to address his health, he’s going to come back better than he’s been in years.
"Right now, what I’m trying to do is hit the reset button," Beckham said in a video posted to his YouTube channel. "Being able to get everything fixed — shoulder, arms, back — everything aligned, functional, moving properly so I can begin training to get ready for the season.
"I would honestly say this is going to be one of my best seasons. Bigger, stronger, faster. It’s just my time."
It can be a common refrain heard from professional athletes who are in their prime and are coming off a disappointing year. Beckham’s first campaign spent in Cleveland qualified as such, with the receiver gutting out all 16 games to just barely get over the 1,000-yard receiving mark to go along with four touchdowns. Instead of highlight-reel grabs catching the eyes of football fans, it was Beckham’s (and Landry’s) heated sideline interactions with his rookie coach that dominated television screens.
Beckham had a right to be frustrated. After being shipped out by a team that famously and rhetorically asked why it would sign him long-term if it wanted to trade him, the receiver had to acclimate to a new team in a brief offseason. He also had to constantly fight through core muscle injuries that robbed him of some of the explosiveness that makes him such a special player.
"So last year I was training in June and July, and I was kind of just feeling stuff around the groin area, abs and stuff like that," he said. "My third week of training camp, I tear a little piece of my ab. So before the season, I kind of had the hernia thing going on. Sports hernia is what they call it. End up at the end of the season, torn abductor, torn rectus abdominis on the right.
"So pretty much, I was just f—ed up the whole year. I really didn’t try and say anything about it. Probably one of the worst surgeries I’ve ever had. Recovery’s going well. Guess I’m really just trying to put my body back together. I’ve been playing for 23 years, so for me, I’m trying to put it all back together in seven months."
Landry told NFL.com something similar back in January during Pro Bowl week, which was even before the receiver ended up electing to undergo surgery to fix his hip injury. With an entire offseason to heal and reassemble their bodies, and a quieter, more focused coaching staff now in place, the dangerous duo figures to have big goals on their minds.
We’ll see if the subdued offseason chatter leads to more wins in a city starved of them.
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