General manager John Dorsey and coach Hue Jackson chose not to bench rookie receiver Antonio Callaway for the preseason opener Thursday night against the New York Giants following a citation for marijuana possession during a traffic stop. They wanted Callaway to get the valuable gameday experience.
Did he ever.
Callaway started and played into the fourth quarter. The first half featured a dropped bubble screen and two passes he got a hand on but couldn’t haul in. He sought out receivers coach Adam Henry.
“I talked to him a little bit and let him calm me down,” Callaway told reporters in New Jersey. “I was just a little anxious and excited.”
He rebounded in the second half with three catches for 87 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown on a slant. Callaway hadn’t played a game in more than a year and said he was thinking too much in the first half.
“He hadn’t played football in quite awhile and to be out there with the ones and playing and getting after it a little bit, I think that was different,” Jackson said. “I think he settled down in the second half and started to play football.”
Callaway was stopped by Strongsville police Sunday morning at 2:59 and cited for driving with a suspended license and having a small amount of marijuana in the car. Callaway told Dorsey and Jackson he hadn’t been smoking marijuana and had just gotten his car shipped to him. They said they believe him.
“I’ve had numerous conversations with Antonio,” Jackson said. “I trust him. I believe in what he said. He’s going to have to earn my trust the rest of the way. We’re not going to deal with any more of this. This is the end of that.”
Callaway has a history of off-field trouble. He had a diluted sample during a drug test at the scouting combine over the winter. During his time at the University of Florida, he was investigated for a sexual assault but cleared, received a misdemeanor marijuana citation and was suspended for the 2017 season for his involvement in a credit card scam.
Callaway addressed the team about the latest incident.
“I’m still 100 percent committed to the Browns,” he said. “I’m still focusing. I hate the negative light had to shine on the Browns, but I’m doing whatever I have to do to gain my coaches’ and my teammates’ trust back. So that won’t happen again.”
PICK UP THE PACE
The Browns starters went four-and-out on the first possession, so new offensive coordinator Todd Haley changed the tempo on the second series to find a rhythm.
After Duke Johnson rushed for 3 yards on first down, the Browns went without a huddle. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor threw 6 yards to receiver Rashard Higgins, 21 to Higgins and 36 to tight end David Njoku for a touchdown.
Taylor was able to get the looks he wanted from the defense and took advantage. On the touchdown Njoku was matched up with a linebacker, who had no chance to keep up.
Njoku, in his second year, struggled with drops early in camp but had two touchdowns against the Giants.
Higgins had a team-high four catches for 66 yards.
Cornerback Denzel Ward, the No. 4 pick, earned a conversation with Jackson and learned a lesson just a few snaps into his NFL career.
Ward drilled receiver Hunter Sharp after a dropped pass on third-and-2, then stood over him to draw a taunting penalty. With the drive extended, the Giants moved into field goal range.
After the kick, Jackson and coordinator Gregg Williams were waiting to greet Ward on the sideline.
“I thought they were about to eject me actually,” Ward, who had two tackles, said on WEWS-TV after the game. “So I’m glad I didn’t get ejected. But I’ve got to watch what I do after I make a play, though.”
Receiver Jarvis Landry was also penalized for taunting after making a 32-yard catch on the Browns’ first offensive play.
The biggest negative of the night was the performance of the run game. The Browns totaled 50 yards on 33 carries for a 1.5 average with a long gain of 7.
Rookie Nick Chubb, the No. 35 pick, struggled the most. He carried 15 times for 11 yards (0.7 average) and a long of 4.
** New linebacker Mychal Kendricks had a sack and a pressure.
** Defensive end Nate Orchard tipped three passes.