Long before Odell Beckham Jr. was a first-round pick or made his sensational one-handed grab on Sunday Night Football, the New York Giants’ most dynamic offensive threat practiced like a pro.
The natural gifts are apparent. Beckham’s short-area quickness, speed, soft hands and rangy wingspan made him one of the most complete prospects at his position.
Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said last May that Beckham was the only rookie wide receiver who didn’t need work on his route running entering the league.
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"The college game, by and large, is really kind of a different game from ours," Gettleman explained. "You watch these receivers, they catch 120 balls and you got 60 smokescreens. And they run three routes.”
Playing three years at LSU, Beckham showed rapid development during each season. With offensive coordinator Cam Cameron having coached at the pro level for nearly a decade and a half, an NFL system is employed in Baton Rouge.
“We emphasize being a Day 1 starter,” LSU wide receivers coach Adam Taylor told FOXSports.com. “Getting a great education is important, but it’s all about the NFL. We’re a vertical, passing team. We run 18-yard comebacks. We run 18-yard crossing routes. Everything we do is down the field.”
Taylor, who spent five seasons working with the Oakland Raiders, stresses the importance of being a well-rounded technician. Football IQ is a priority. Taylor requires his receivers to do board work in front of their teammates once a week.
It translates on the field and at the next level.
Beckham and his former teammate Jarvis Landry, who is also having a stellar rookie season with the Miami Dolphins, spent countless hours at LSU’s indoor training facility.
“Those two broke a Jugs machine once,” Taylor said with a laugh. “The shooter, the handle on it that shoots the ball, they broke it. They wore out the machine so much that it ended up breaking. They would use it so much.”
Of course, it’s not only Beckham and Landry having success in the league during their first season.
Undrafted wide receivers James Wright (Bengals) and Kadron Boone (Rams) have benefited from LSU’s system. Running backs Jeremy Hill (Bengals) and Alfred Blue (Texans) and quarterback Zach Mettenberger also have made names for themselves as rookies.
“You can be an NFL player and play two, three or four years, which is the average,” Taylor said. “Or you can learn how to be a pro and have a long career in the league. That’s what we stress here.”
DEPTH CHARGES IN ATLANTA
When you’re 4-7 like the Falcons, these are the times that a general manager’s boldest moves come into question.
One AFC personnel director this week directed my attention toward the Julio Jones draft day trade. The Falcons, fresh off a 48-21 loss against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the 2010 playoffs, traded five picks to the Cleveland Browns to move up 21 spots in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Though there’s no doubting Jones has – and will continue to have – a Pro Bowl career, the amount of picks included in the trade to Cleveland has handicapped Atlanta’s depth to the present day.
There’s no question the Falcons have been hurt by injuries the past two seasons, but the roster’s overall strength has been exposed. That one trade cost the Falcons their first- (27th overall), second- (59th) and fourth-round (124th) picks in 2011 and their first- and fourth-round picks in 2012.
“That’s an entire offensive line right there with those picks,” the personnel director said. “They’ve been playing catch-up ever since.”
The return of linebacker Bobby Wagner meant everything to the Seahawks defense last week. After being sidelined for six weeks with a turf toe injury, the Seahawks were mixing and matching to find some thump in the middle. Bringing Wagner along slowly now has Seattle ready for the stretch run.
“Wagner is a heck of a football player,” an NFC personnel executive told FOXSports.com. “He’s one of the best linebackers in the league. Period. He’s one of the most underrated players in football. He can run and he’s physical. They’re a different defense with him in the lineup.”
Playing in his third year, Wagner’s availability allows the Seahawks to field 10 of the 11 starters from their Super Bowl team a season ago.
"I went up to Bobby in the locker room and I said, ‘Geez, I didn’t realize what a factor you are,’ ” Seattle coach Pete Carroll told reporters after Sunday’s win. “That was great to have him out there. The players were really excited to be playing with him again. He is one of the heartbeat guys for this club.”
RAVENS TAPER OFF, FINISH STRONG
After watching the Baltimore Ravens’ Monday night win over the New Orleans Saints, I couldn’t help but remember what FOX Sports NFL analyst Brendon Ayanbadejo said two weeks ago on his new segment Coaches’ Corner.
Ayanbadejo noted head coach John Harbaugh’s plan for the second half of the season. The Ravens taper down by shortening meeting lengths and taking the pads off at practice. The tapering translates to wins on the field. In the Harbaugh era, the Ravens are 34-16 in the second half of the season.