The last time the Bears saw receiver Odell Beckham Jr., he caught a one-yard touchdown pass and threw a 49-yard scoring pass for the Giants in 2018.
The last time anyone saw him in a regular-season game, on Oct. 25, the Browns receiver left in the first quarter after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
On Sunday, he’ll make his return. After being limited during training camp and sitting out the first two games, Beckham wasn’t on the Browns’ injury report Friday. He told reporters Thursday that after “a long time in that cave,” his return “is going to be special.”
The Bears want to make sure it’s not too special.
“He’s a rare talent,” coach Matt Nagy said Friday. “We all know that. It’s unfortunate he got hurt last year. He’s an elite wide receiver that has some of the greatest hands ever in the history of this game. He’s a great route runner.
“Anytime you bring a player like that to their offense, you have to know where he’s at. Of course, he can throw the ball, too. You have to be alert for gadgets.”
And everything else.
“We don’t know what he’s going to be used specifically as this year, just watching old film and stuff,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “He’s a playmaker, he’s a gamer. He’ll do a lot of different things — he’ll stretch the field deep, reverse, trickery plays. So we’ve just got to stay on top of our keys.”
The first time the Bears’ defensive backs were stressed, they were exposed in the season opener. Jackson — who, among other mistakes, forgot to touch Rams receiver Van Jefferson down before he stood up to finish a 67-yard catch-and-run touchdown — stood in front of his teammates during a Week 2 meeting and apologized.
“We know we didn’t have the game the secondary is supposed to have,” Jackson said. “And I stood up there, and I took that one. I told the team, the defense, ‘That one was on us.’ I told the team, the defensive coaches. ‘That one was on us.’
“We didn’t go out there and play our best ball, so we just wanted to go out there and correct that.”
They did. The Bears took the ball away on four consecutive possessions against the Bengals in a 20-17 win. The Browns will challenge them in a different way this week — with play-action. Through two games, the Browns have thrown 49 passes, the second-fewest in the NFL. Fourteen of those, though, have been play-action passes.
The Browns’ bruising running game should set up opportunities for Beckham. Last year, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined to run for 1,908 yards. This season, Chubb ranks sixth in the NFL with 178 rushing yards.
“They are physical, and they run angrily and mean,” defensive coordinator Sean Desai said. “They run with their shoulders over their toes. They’re not afraid to hit the ball downhill, and they are not afraid to make anybody miss. From a defensive lineman to a defensive back, they can make anybody miss in the hole.
“It’s going to take a lot of people at one time to get them down.”
That will stress the safeties. So will the fact that Jackson’s typical running mate, strong safety Tashaun Gipson, is doubtful to play after hurting his hamstring during practice Wednesday. He’ll be replaced by a combination of Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson.
“We know that’s what they love to do, run the ball and then try to get us in play-action,” Jackson said. “This is the type [of game] where you’ve got to be in the right spot and don’t try to do too much. Do your job and try to take care of the man in front of you.”