Monday, December 18, 2017
Sports

When your Achilles' heel is your head

Odell Beckham Jr. might be the most physically gifted receiver to ever wear an NFL uniform, blessed with a remarkable ability to make the most difficult catches seem routine and high-end speed that makes him almost impossible to chase down once he is headed for the end zone.

But if Beckham is to continue on a pace that has never previously been seen, then he will have to master a far more challenging part of his game than running routes and catching passes. For a player who has remarkable control over his body, it is what's inside his head that may ultimately determine how far he goes.

In his first 25 games, Beckham had more catches, yards and touchdowns than any other receiver at the same juncture. But it's what happened in his 26th game that may have offered the most telling glimpse into a weakness that could have a major impact on his future success.

Panthers cornerback Josh Norman took up residence inside Beckham's head with such disturbing effectiveness throughout the Giants' 38-35 loss that the wide receiver became unhinged. Despite Beckham's insistence that this game had nothing to do with his individual match-up with Carolina's elite cornerback, the second-year wide receiver melted down so completely that he lost all good sense and cost his team the game and cost himself a one-game suspension.

Beckham's intentional head shot on Norman in the third quarter prompted the NFL to sit him down for Sunday's game against the Vikings. Unless he successfully appeals the ruling handed down by NFL vice president Merton Hanks, the former 49ers free safety, then Beckham will serve a well-deserved timeout for one of the most gratuitous shots you'll ever see in sports. But as much as the sanction will hurt both Beckham and his team, the aftereffects could be even more significant.

The incident serves notice to every NFL cornerback that you can mess with Beckham's psyche to the point where you will mess up his game. Do not think for a second that defenders who face the receiver in subsequent games won't try and antagonize Beckham the way Norman did, not only during the game but in the days leading up to it.

While Norman may have gone over the line with insults directed at Beckham and deserves a hefty fine for his actions during the game, rest assured that future opponents will do whatever they can to mess with Beckham's head in a bid to disrupt his game. It's no different for any NFL player who quickly develops a reputation for greatness, especially someone such as Beckham who draws more media hype than most because of how he plays and where he plays. He has been spectacular on the biggest stage in sports, and the reverberations of that hype extend to every NFL locker room. Taunts like the ones Norman directed at Beckham from his own locker room and then at MetLife Stadium on game day will continue to be directed at the receiver, especially now that Beckham showed that such heckling can work.

It's no different for Beckham than it is for any rising star, because the better you play and the more attention you get, the bigger the target for opposing players who measure themselves by how well they do against you. Especially defensive players whose DNA usually consists of a psychological bravado intended to intimidate opponents both physically and mentally.

What Beckham did was wrong, and surely he must realize that now. Especially after hearing his coach, Tom Coughlin, say in no uncertain terms that the head shot was unacceptable. Coughlin should have made his point clearer immediately after the cheap shot by removing Beckham for at least a series and telling him to knock it off. And the coach needs to sit down individually with Beckham — if he hasn't already done so — and firmly reinforce the message.

But if Beckham learns anything from this experience, it's that he needs to work on restraining his temper as diligently as he works on making one-handed catches and running post routes. He needs to make sure nothing like this will ever happen again, and that he can look the other way and turn the other cheek when the situation calls for it.

He needs to pay more attention to what his teammates and coaches need, not to what his ego demands.

Let this serve as a learning experience for the young receiver: If you want to be great — and we mean Hall of Fame great — it's what you do for your team, not yourself, that counts most. Newsday (TNS)

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