GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For all the suggestions from outside the walls of the Giants’ locker room that Odell Beckham Jr. has been a divisive force, the evidence from inside the walls suggests just the opposite. Despite his inability to prevent his temper from flaring during the course of games, it has not gotten to the point that his teammates — even privately — suggest that Beckham is anything other than an important and coveted part of this group.
Not that anyone has condoned his frequent outbursts, the most recent of which led to an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty and the threat of ejection for another one in last Monday night’s 24-10 loss to the Vikings. The players don’t like it and don’t want to see any more of it, but it isn’t to the point — at least not yet — that Beckham has become poisonous in the locker room the way receivers Terrell Owens, Randy Moss and Chad Ochocinco once were.
“He gets frustrated when he’s not performing up to his highest level,” said punter Brad Wing, Beckham’s former LSU teammate and the receiver’s closest friend on the team. “He’s a guy that’s very passionate, and I think that’s why he’s such a great player. That’s why we’re behind him 100 percent.”
It has been a difficult adjustment for Beckham, whose frequent outbursts trace to his matchup last December against Panthers cornerback Josh Norman and have continued the last two weeks in games against Norman, now with Washington, and Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes.
Beckham has promised an attitude adjustment, and he took the national stage Sunday night against the Packers in the latest test of whether he has truly changed or whether it’s more empty words. He did seem more sincere in his comments to the media Thursday, when he cited his concern about being a poor role model for young fans.
Then again, he mentioned being a role model in his apology statement last December after being suspended for the final regular-season game for launching himself helmet-first at Norman. Yet that didn’t stop him from being overcome with emotion the last two games.
He indeed was on his best behavior early on against the Packers, and he was the least of the Giants’ problems in the first half. Eli Manning targeted — and completed — his first pass of the night to Beckham, and he wound up with three catches for 42 yards in the half. He did drop a third-down catch, but Manning’s play was a far bigger issue than Beckham’s. The 35-year-old quarterback was 6-for-16 for 87 yards, and although he didn’t have an interception, he did lose a fumble near the end of the half that allowed the Packers to kick a field goal that made it 17-6 at intermission.
For Beckham, it was a calm start after a promise to knock off the silly stuff.
“You have to accept the situation and know that that’s going to be the case,” Beckham said of opposing cornerbacks trying to get to him and throw him off his game. “It’s like blood in the water. The shark smells the blood, he’s going to swim around it. Apparently, there is blood in the water. You just keep swimming. Be fearless. I’m always going to go with Coach [Ben McAdoo]. It’s tough to be in that situation, but it is what it is.”
McAdoo went to great lengths to defend Beckham this past week after perhaps elevating the stakes the previous week by acknowledging that Beckham’s sideline tirade against Washington was a “distraction.”
“I think he has great passion for the game, and he has a great desire to be one heck of a player,” McAdoo said. “The one thing I would hate to see him lose is that drive and passion. I like him as a salty, competitive player. That’s when he plays at his best. We just need to be productive when we’re doing it.”
It is admittedly a fine line to walk, because passion can equally go over the line and transform into anger and frustration. That’s where the problem comes up, when Beckham can’t prevent himself from crossing that line.
“You have to stay within the rules,” McAdoo said. “[Opposing teams] are going to do whatever they can to keep him from having the ball in his hands. If they feel that [taunting] is a good strategy, then you may see it.”
But Beckham is simply too good a player to be bogged down with engaging in — and ultimately losing — the individual war of words with opposing players. He needs to rise above it and get back to creating the kinds of plays that elevated him into stardom in the first place. That means concentrating on the ball and not his pursuers.