EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tearing a hamstring once is tough. Tearing it a second time is awful. That's what happened to New York Giants rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr., once in May workouts and again in July at training camp.
"It was the first day of workouts in both sessions and each time, I felt the pain and knew it was not ordinary,'' Beckham said. "It is one of those things where you first hurt it and then you begin overcompensating with other parts of your body trying to overcome it. It just turned into a mess.''
For Beckham and for the Giants.
The NFL is often an instant league that demands instant results, and this Beckham hamstring issue was creating a circus situation for the player and for the team. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin grew impatient. Some of Beckham's teammates began giving him peculiar looks. He missed all five preseason games and the first four Giants regular season games, a speedster, a blazer who was brought to a crawl.
A no-show, a ghost for the 12th player selected overall in this year's draft.
Hurry up and wait.
"In the middle of it all, one thing happened that helped me keep it together and not get too far down that I couldn't come back up,'' Beckham said. "Mr. Jerry Reese (the Giants general manager) called me into his office and sat me down. He told me that a hamstring injury is nothing to play with. He said it had to be right or it would never stay right for the season. He told me to take the time to make it right and to know that was what he wanted. He said none of the other talk or stuff mattered. He said get well and when you do, you will know, we will know, and we will go from there. That meant the world to me.''
Beckham is back.
He surfaced on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons in the Giants 30-20 victory at MetLife Stadium. He scored on a 15-yard pass early in the fourth quarter that provided the winning points. He made his first NFL catch on a 7-yard comeback route midway through the first quarter that fetched an extra cheer from knowledgeable and appreciative Giants fans. He created a 26-yard pass interference penalty against the Falcons that led to another Giants score.
He ran fast. He ran very fast. He ran by Falcons. He made them back up. He helped turn a 20-10 Atlanta third-quarter lead into dust as the Falcons began retreating.
He did just what the Giants envisioned he would do when they drafted him -- he took the top off.
"When you can take the top off of a defense, make them rotate extra safeties deep and overall back up, it changes the entire complexion of an offense,'' Giants receiver Victor Cruz said. "He can really do that.''
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Beckham, "I was impressed. The athleticism was obvious to everybody and his speed will have to be reckoned with.''
Preparing for the draft, the Giants had graded Beckham higher than receivers Sammy Watkins (No. 4 to Buffalo) and Mike Evans (No. 7 to Tampa Bay) and were surprised and ecstatic when he was available at No. 12. They figured he would be a key piece in their new offense under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. McAdoo favors a West Coast, high-completion, quick-strike offense that would keep things free and flowing underneath by featuring a blow-by guy deep.
The Giants offense struggled early without Beckham, with the team losing their first two contests. The Giants won their next two games and then reached a fresh level of potential explosiveness and force with Beckham.
His teammates saw it in practices last week.
Giants middle linebacker Mark Herzlich noticed.
"The injury had him waiting, it had us waiting, and everybody wanted to see what he could do,'' Herzlich said. "And then in practices before this game you started to hear the whispers. He can run. He can play ball. Me and (defensive end Mathias) Kiwanuka and (defensive tackle) Cullen Jenkins turned and looked at each other after a couple of plays in practice last week and said, `He's pretty good.' He has big hands and catches the ball strong and in front of his body. He can fly.''
Several Giants players said they gained respect for Beckham's patience as well as his persistence.
"Coming in as a first-rounder, you know the man had talent,'' said Giants left tackle Will Beatty. "It's hard to miss that much time and not be affected by it. He's a young player. He's handled things like a pro. He got what he deserved today. Welcome to the NFL.''
Beckham was a dynamic player at LSU who is more used to the attention he received on Sunday than the injury-muddled existence he's already experienced as a pro. He is age 21 and is 5-11, 198 pounds.
He is not a big receiver but he is also not a small one.
He is not a timid one.
"He sort of had a `stick-with-me-attitude' during all of this and we did,'' Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "There is a smoothness and confidence there. He had a day in practice last week where he lined up, looked at me and said: `OK Cro, let's go!' You don't expect that from a rookie. I was really surprised by it. I can't remember a rookie ever challenging me like that. Our team completely understands this now - he can really help us win.''
Before kickoff, during the singing of the national anthem, Beckham cried.
"Tears of joy,'' he said.
Giants rookie running back Andre Williams saw it.
"I went up and put my arms around him and told him that I understood his emotion, that he had waited so long for this, but his time was now and we were with him,'' Williams said. "Man, when he showed up, he really showed up.''
When it was over, Coughlin found Beckham at his locker and looked into his eyes and spoke directly to him.
"He told me it was a good start,'' Beckham said. "He told me I had worked for this. He said to keep it together.''
Next up is a Sunday night clash at the division-leading Philadelphia Eagles, a chance for Beckham to experience prime-time and a passionate rivalry. The Giants are certain that Beckham can be just as explosive as a punt or kickoff returner. They might look to use him in that role against the Eagles.
He said when the ball was in the air on his touchdown catch he thought "that everything I ever dreamed was coming true.''
He said he told his mother when he was 3-years old that this was what he wanted to be, that this is what he wanted to do.
So the Giants waited a few weeks that turned into months.
But Beckham waited for this for 18 years.
It's just a start.
But it sure took the top off.
By Thomas George | sbnation.com | October 6, 2014