Nothing about Odell Beckham Jr. is normal. Not his hair, a purple dye that’s faded into a platinum blond ’do hiding under his Ravens helmet. Not his legions of fans, who chant his name at training camp as if it’s an incantation. Certainly not his football life, which a personal photographer chronicled Thursday, one more step in his long journey back to the sport that made him one of the world’s most famous athletes.

Beckham’s celebrity can seem irresistible at times, even on a practice field teeming with boldface names. As wide receiver Zay Flowers, a first-round pick who worked out with Beckham and star quarterback Lamar Jackson during the offseason in South Florida, stepped away from a news conference Thursday, he smiled as a name echoed across the practice fields. He couldn’t resist it himself: “O-dell! O-dell!”

“Never gets old,” Beckham said of the attention just minutes later. “Man, you know, first day, yesterday, coming out, I just wanted to be grateful for that moment. It was a long time in rehab. … Short days, hard times and just to be able to be back out there running around, I didn’t care what happened. You know, it was just a blessing to be able to step on that field. Say a prayer, thank the man for another opportunity. I was just in a very gratitude state, I guess you can say.”

This version of Beckham is hard to define, in part because he represents so much to so many. To the Ravens, who signed him in April to a one-year, $15 million deal, he was a jolt — not only to their beleaguered wide receiver corps but also to their efforts at reconciling with Jackson, and perhaps broadening their fan base as well. To teammates, he is the patron saint of one-handed grabs — a “household name,” as Jackson described him. To Beckham’s 17.4 million Instagram followers, he might be less a football star than a social media icon.

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As Beckham himself indicated Thursday, it’s been a while since he caught a meaningful pass. He sat out last season after tearing his ACL 17 months ago in the Los Angeles Rams’ Super Bowl LVI triumph. Beckham said in April that he was “well on the way to being MVP in that,” with two catches for 52 yards and a touchdown in the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Other than a highlight-reel catch over cornerback Rock Ya-Sin on Wednesday, the first day, Beckham’s start to camp has been somewhat quiet. That seems intentional. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday that Beckham “has a good plan” for his recovery and that he envisions the 30-year-old ramping up in time for Week 1. The Ravens do not mind having the NFL offseason’s most expensive wide receiver signing spectate.

“There’s no real limitations,” Beckham said. “It’s just about knowing every detail of the playbook. ... It’s just Day 2. Once you know every single thing, you could play fast. I could just feel myself wanting to continue to learn, continue to find something to get better at, continue to harp on one thing for the day to come back and correct it. Again, I don’t know percentages. I just feel good. I feel like I’m going to continue to work to get back to who I truly am.”

Beckham did not need to catch a single pass in camp to have a notable summer. His offseason itinerary was pure, unadulterated star power. He hung out with Conor McGregor at Kylie Minogue’s birthday party in Monaco. He got a spot in DJ Khaled’s golf event in Miami. He rubbed elbows with Kevin Hart, Justin Bieber and Tom Brady at Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin’s “White Party” in the Hamptons. He posed for photographs with Neymar at the NBA Finals.

In late July, life is different. Training camp has more local flavors. Beckham joked Thursday about a fan coming up to him recently and making a remark in a distinctly Baltimore accent. “I had to have them repeat it,” he said, laughing. “[I’m] just embracing every single bit of what we have going here.”

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After a year away from the sport, he is savoring the simple pleasures of mixing football and family. At the end of Wednesday’s practice, Beckham shadowed his 1-year-old son, Zydn, as he toddled around the Ravens’ fields. On Instagram, Beckham wrote that the moment made him “emotional.”

“Truly waitin for this moment for a long time,” he wrote in his Instagram story. “I always wanted to have trainin camp where ya family and lil man there waiting for ya after practice.”

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Because Beckham is Beckham, the video was shared on the Ravens’ Twitter (now called X) account and watched, as of Thursday night, over 80,000 times. The hope in Baltimore is that it is among the first of many highlights Beckham will deliver to the franchise. Before he became an internationally known celebrity and a doting father, Beckham was one of the NFL’s best wide receivers, a three-time Pro Bowl selection whose career started on a Hall of Fame track.

Nothing about Beckham’s football life in the years since — the injuries, the hopping around team rosters, the off-field headlines — has been normal. In Baltimore, he has a chance at a restart. Because of who he is, that could be exceptional, too.

“The things you used to find yourself having small complaints about, I’m just trying my best to not hear it out of me,” Beckham said. “Just to know in a matter of split seconds, things happen. So, like I say, gratitude is all I’m feeling right now. Knowing that there’s a lot of work to be done and yeah, it’s cool, I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and have fun right now, but there is a lot of serious work that needs to be done. Just trying to find one thing to be better at each and every day.”

jonas.shaffer@thebaltimorebanner.com

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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