If you’re concerned that Odell Beckham Jr. might be attracting too much attention for his own good, you’re not alone. Some of his Giants teammates appear to feel the same way.
Oh, they won’t come right out and say that Beckham ought to tone down the distractions — some of his own doing, some perhaps unavoidable. But Victor Cruz and Eli Manning aren’t shy in discussing their willingness to make sure Beckham’s star doesn’t burn so brightly that it ends up affecting what happens on the field.
Beckham’s talent is unmistakable and his potential unlimited, and he adores playing on the big stage. But he got involved in a run-in with Josh Norman during last year’s game against the Panthers — which culminated in a one-game suspension after Beckham launched himself helmet-first at the Carolina cornerback — and provided plenty of red meat for the tabloids over his dalliance with Khloe Kardashian and his friendship with rapper Drake. All of which prompted Cruz and Manning to be mindful of keeping Beckham focused on what has made him famous in the first place.
“Just understanding that he’s going to be pulled and tugged, just like we all are, in doing a bunch of things,” said Cruz, who practiced Friday for the first time since last year’s training camp after returning from a calf injury. “But he has to be smart. He has to understand that it’s OK to say no sometimes, whether on or off the field to these obligations, and understand what his priorities are.”
Cruz didn’t mention anything about Drake or Khloe or Norman specifically, but there is an understanding that things have changed around Beckham. From the moment he made that spectacular one-handed catch in prime time against the Cowboys as a rookie in 2014, Beckham’s star has risen dramatically. But with it has come the albatross of becoming a target among many opponents, and Norman got under Beckham’s skin so completely that the receiver lost it and took a major hit to his reputation. He also gave license to others to take up residence inside his head.
“I think he knows. I think he understands that, so he just has to understand how to combat that, how to talk to you guys , how to talk to people out in the streets, because anything he says is going to be used as a headline,” said Cruz, who enjoyed his own meteoric rise when he went from an undrafted rookie in 2010 to a Super Bowl champion a year later and now is attempting to come back after two injury-filled seasons.
“He has to understand not just what he says, but how he says it, who he says it to and understanding what he says can be used as a headline at any given moment,” Cruz said.
It’s fascinating and revealing insight from Cruz, who can use his own experiences in dealing with sudden fame, albeit on a different level. He came into the league with no fanfare as opposed to Beckham, the ninth overall pick in 2014.
“I think he’s becoming, slowly but surely, a professional, understanding the rights and wrongs of the game, the rights and wrongs of his craft,” Cruz said.
Part of that is leaning on those around him. Said Cruz, “I think it takes people like myself, people like Eli, other leaders on the team to come up to him and say, ‘Hey, man, we got your back. You don’t need to go above and beyond what’s being asked of you. Be the great player that you are. Go out there and play. Everything will take care of itself. And we got your back.’ ”
Manning also is doing his part to help Beckham channel his energy into what’s most important. “I think he understands what he has to do to play at his best,” he said. “He has to make sure he keeps a cool head about him and that he goes out there and does his job.”
Manning said it’s his job “to keep [Beckham] going when things are going well, but there are going to be games where defenses takes him away for a quarter or a couple of series and he doesn’t have a catch. It’s my job to pump him up, find ways to get him the ball, find ways to keep him happy so he can make plays for us.”
Has Beckham learned? He wasn’t available Friday to answer for himself (he’s expected to make his first public comments in training camp this weekend), but Cruz thinks he has.
“I think he understands that this past year, since last season, has been a little bit of a whirlwind,” he said. “He wants people to know him for him and how he’s a great player, great person and how he wants to be perceived, and I think he’s really taken charge of that.”
We’ll soon find out if Cruz’s words ring true or if Beckham lets the distractions get to him.