BEREA — Wide receiver Antonio Callaway has been chasing consistent production throughout his roller coaster ride of a rookie season.
The fourth-round draft pick of the Browns watched it slip from his grasp again Sunday in a 29-13 loss to the Houston Texans.
On third-and-12 at the Browns 23, Callaway made a contested catch over the middle against safety Andre Hal and sprinted away from the defense. But as cornerback Aaron Colvin closed in on him, Callaway drifted to his right, and safety Justin Reed forced him to fumble at the 6. Colvin recovered the fumble in the end zone.
What should have been a 77-yard touchdown with 3:35 left in the third quarter went down the drain, and the Browns trailed 26-7 instead of making things interesting.
"I was mad. I was pissed," Callaway said Thursday as the Browns (4-7-1) prepared for Sunday's home game against the Carolina Panthers (6-6). "Right there, we had an opportunity to close the lead. I mean, it was a start. That wouldn’t have put us right there, but it was a start, and I just want to make those plays when I can."
Two snaps earlier, Callaway had beaten cornerback Shareece Wright for a 76-yard touchdown reception, but the play was negated by left tackle Greg Robinson's holding penalty.
"I told him, 'You’re putting it on tape,' that you can make the big plays, that you can catch the ball in traffic and still use your speed to score," receiver Jarvis Landry said. "Teams will see that. They will recognize that, and then you’re going to start getting open more and more. I think the door’s definitely about to open up for his career and for him."
Callaway hopes so. He said this season hasn't unfolded the way he wanted.
"I've had some ups and some downs," he said. "That's part of life. But everything's going to work out.
"I'm young. I'm learning as I go."
He learned other hard lessons in the second quarter.
Callaway was targeted on two of rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield's three interceptions. Mayfield suggested the depth of Callaway's route was off on the first one, a 38-yard pick-six by linebacker Zach Cunningham. Callaway admitted he erred on the second interception, which cornerback Johnathan Joseph snagged.
"I was supposed to come back to the ball, but we hadn't worked that," Callaway said. "But now we worked it. Everything has gone right [in practice]."
Callaway, 21, admitted he must improve his routes to take the next step.
"I can run some good routes, but I want to be like crisp on my routes because I’m already fast," Callaway said. "I can run with anybody, run past [them]. I just want to be crisp on my routes."
Offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens said Callaway must simply know what to do on the field.
"He's a young guy that didn't play any football last year," Kitchens said, referring to Callaway's suspension from Florida stemming from a credit card fraud scheme. "I think Antonio has tremendous upside. He's continuing to work every day on focusing on what he has to do.
"Make sure that you stay in your book, your game plan book, you're watching tape, you understand how people are going to play you and then you just focus and concentrate and do your job. I think he has gotten better at that as the year goes on. He's a young guy. You have to stay on him, make sure that he's doing the right things."
Asked if Callaway has the potential to be a No. 1 receiver, Kitchens said, "I don't know. I can’t answer that. I know that he's young right now. I know that he has a great ceiling, a very high ceiling. Some of that depends on Antonio — how good he wants to be and how committed he is to doing that."
Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (biceps), center JC Tretter (ankle) and cornerback Phillip Gaines (knee) returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis.
Ogunjobi suffered his injury against the Texans and is awaiting a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews.
Does he expect to play Sunday?
"Well, that's always what I think, but I've still got to see what the coaches and the trainers [say]," Ogunjobi said. "Ultimately, it'll be a game-time decision for the most part.
"I was able to go through the practice, felt well, nothing was hurting too bad. So we’re just playing it by ear. We’ll see how tomorrow goes."
Interim coach Gregg Williams said Ogunjobi had a "pretty good" practice.
"He was clamoring to me to make sure I saw that sack that he got at the end," Williams said.
Rookie cornerback Denzel Ward (concussion) and rookie guard/center Austin Corbett (foot) remained idle.
He's the man
Linebacker Christian Kirksey was named the Browns 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year for his performance on the field and commitment to the community.
Kirksey, who's on injured reserve with a pulled hamstring, launched the Kirkoland Foundation in the spring, striving to provide opportunities for local children in need. He's been one of the team's primary leaders in its social justice initiatives in Northeast Ohio, including participation in the club’s Neighborhood Unity and Equality Summits.
Each NFL team's man of the year winner is nominated for the leaguewide award, which will be announced during "NFL Honors," a two-hour primetime awards special that will air Feb. 2 on CBS.
"I’m honored," Kirksey said. "I try and do as much as I can in the community, try to be a positive role model, influence a lot of people. I’m just happy that the Cleveland Browns organization nominated me, and how I’m viewed by my peers definitely humbles me."
• Running back Duke Johnson had an excused absence from practice for the second day in a row. "Hopefully he will be back tomorrow," Williams said.
• Williams said former Browns linebacker Clay Matthews has "credible credentials" for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "Clay was a dominant player that you had to offensively take note of at all times. [He had an] ability to violently — and I mean violently — crush the pocket when he rushed the passer," Williams said. Matthews is one of 25 semifinalists for the Hall of Fame's class of 2019.
• The Browns and local Marines will host their annual toy drive at FirstEnergy Stadium before Sunday's game. Fans are encouraged to bring new unwrapped gifts ($10+) for children in need within Cuyahoga County to the stadium, where volunteers will collect the items and monetary contributions at the gates beginning at 11 a.m.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Browns coverage at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByNateUlrich and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.