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Fast track: Browns speedy WR Callaway to fill Gordon’s role

September 18, 2018
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Cleveland Browns wide receiver Antonio Callaway, left, prepares to catch the ball for a touchdown over New Orleans Saints cornerback Ken Crawley during the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — With Josh Gordon long gone after he and his baggage were jettisoned to the Patriots, the Browns need another dynamic playmaker to stretch the field.

Antonio Callaway had better be ready.

“He ain’t got no choice,” Browns receiver Jarvis Landry said with a smile.

Perhaps Cleveland’s fastest player, Callaway is literally learning on the fly. The speedy 21-year-old, who had a checkered college career at Florida and would have been a first-round pick if not for non-football issues, is expected to have an expanded role going forward for the Browns (0-1-1).

This is Callaway’s latest chance, and he’s planning to make the most it.

“It’s the National Football League,” he said following a walk-through as the Browns prepared for Thursday night’s game against the New York Jets. “So I’ve got to step up.”

Callaway did just that last Sunday in New Orleans while filling in for Gordon, who was left home after he betrayed Cleveland’s trust for the last time. Callaway made three catches for 81 yards and scored his first pro touchdown when he hauled in Tyrod Taylor’s soaring 47-yard pass with 1:16 remaining.

On fourth-and-5, Browns offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Taylor rolled the dice with the daring, deep pass that looked for a moment to be overthrown.

“I thought he was throwing it to me and I was like, ‘Damn, this is too far,’” said Landry, who was running a pattern down the middle of the field to Callaway’s left. “And then I peeked outside and I saw Callaway. And then I saw him put his head down and dig again, and he made the catch. That was definitely another gear.”

Browns coach Hue Jackson said he’s watched at least five replays of Callaway’s sprint and fingertip grab.

“When he threw it, I thought, ‘Oh my,’” Jackson said. “I did not think we could get to it to be honest with you. All of a sudden, I see this guy go vroom and he runs right under the ball. What a play.”

Callaway may have to make more big plays if the Browns intend to end their 19-game winless streak dating to 2016. He was always in the team’s plans for his first season, but Gordon’s departure has accelerated everything for a player who at times has run too fast off the field.

While at Florida, Callaway struggled to stay out of trouble. He was investigated on a sexual assault charge that was later dropped, got cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana charge and then was dropped from the Gators team for his involvement in a credit card scheme.

Callaway failed a drug test when he provided a diluted sample at the NFL Combine in February, further damaging his chances to be drafted early.

Still, the Browns felt comfortable enough to select him with the No. 105 overall pick, and they had no reason to second-guess their decision until Callaway was ticketed for driving on a suspended license and police found a small amount of marijuana and gun parts in his car during a traffic stop in August.

But Callaway has been on the straight and narrow since, and Jackson has been pleased with his progress.

“He’s making strides,” Jackson said. “We were not trying got push him too fast, not give him too much, too fast. Now, he has to take it all. It’s time. I think that he will do well. He has always competed hard, and he always works at it. It is another step for him. This Thursday night will be good for him.”

So was the TD catch on a perfectly thrown ball by Taylor, a play that became a footnote in another painful loss for the Browns.

Landry, though, said it can change Callaway.

“It does everything,” he said. “It does a lot, obviously, for the guys around him, but it does a lot for the coaches and it does a lot for 5 (Taylor). And that’s something as an offense we need, so it’s awesome.”

NOTES: Starting DE Emmanuel Ogbah will miss his second game Thursday with a sprained left ankle. ... RB Duke Johnson has just 11 touches in two games, and Jackson said that’s not nearly enough for one of the team’s best offensive players. “Duke is a tremendous player,” Jackson said. “We have got to put him in position to make an impact, because he can. We will continue to look at different ways of getting him involved, but we will. We will get Duke going.” ... New rookie K Greg Joseph was still meeting teammates after being signed Monday following a tryout. The Browns cut Zane Gonzalez after he missed four kicks in Sunday’s loss. If he stays around, Joseph, who played at Florida Atlantic, could be kicking in frigid conditions in Cleveland. He faced some inclement weather in college at Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee. “I don’t know the temperature, but there wasn’t any palm trees and the sun wasn’t shining,” he said.

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