By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: A pattern has developed with Browns wide receiver Greg Little during training camp. He’s usually one of the last players, if not the very last one, to leave the field after every practice.
So as the majority of the 90-man roster heads to the locker room and hits the showers after 2½ hours of on-field work, Little stands in the line of fire, catching balls zipped toward him by a JUGS passing machine.
Perhaps it’s a sign he is growing up. Plagued by dropped passes, inconsistent performances and flashes of immaturity in his first two seasons, Little seems to be carrying himself a bit differently than before.
“I just understand the profession of the business and the time that goes into preparation,” said Little, a second-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. “I understand what you put in is what you’re going to get out. It’s a long season, and we’re just going to prepare for this uphill climb and this journey.
“I think the sky’s the limit for me. The way I prepare during training camp, the way I prepared during this offseason is going to put me in position to do everything and achieve every goal I have set for myself.”
The Browns need Little to rise to the occasion this year, especially during the first two games of the regular season when their No. 1 receiver, Josh Gordon, will serve a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Gordon said he failed a drug test as a result of prescribed cough medicine that contained codeine, which the NFL classifies as a banned substance.
“I spent a lot of time with Josh,” Little said. “He and I worked out together in the offseason. It’s not a leadership thing. It’s a brotherhood thing. It’s an accountability thing. He’s got my back, and I have his back. Josh made a mistake, and he’s learning from it. And I think it’s going to make Josh a better person and a better player.
“Josh is very accountable from this point on. He’s going to respond in a very professional manner from this point on. He’s going to come back in Week 3 ready to roll. It’s some of the trials and tribulations I went through as a rookie. Not necessarily to that extent, but knowing how to conduct yourself off the field.”
Little had some problems not only as a rookie, but also in his second NFL season.
He drew the ire of ex-Browns coach Pat Shurmur and fans last year by imitating Olympic track star Usain Bolt’s trademark pose to signal first downs when he caught the ball instead of dropping it. Shurmur threatened to bench Little, who further annoyed fans on Twitter by insisting he didn’t care what they thought. Little then took a break from Twitter and played better in the second half of the season.
The threat of losing his starting job seemed to serve as a wake-up call for Little. It’s still early, but Little has been all business through organized team activities in May, the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp in June and the early stages of training camp.
“I have been really pleased with Greg all along,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “He’s made really big strides in the spring. He still has a long way to go and a lot to learn about football, playing receiver and the details of the position. That is the biggest thing I stress with all the guys — these guys have potential, but it’s about knowledge, it’s about detail and it’s about drive. Those are the things, to reach your potential you have to focus on. So that’s what we’ve been talking a lot about.”
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Little believes Chudzinski knows how to push his buttons the right way. Chudzinski reminds him of Butch Davis, the former Browns coach who guided Little at the University of North Carolina.
“Chud is a lot like Butch,” said Little, who started all 16 games last season and compiled a team-high 53 catches for 647 yards and four touchdowns. “They communicate very well. They motivate very well. [Those are] the things that I love about a coach, a guy that can motivate me, a guy that can pull the best out of me. And Chud is all of that.”
Always working to improve
The Browns need Little to remain motivated when it really counts. Little is next on the depth chart after Gordon, and he figures to be a top target for quarterback Brandon Weeden in the vertical, downfield passing attack Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner want to feature.
Little has done his homework on the system. He has studied film of receivers who excelled under Chudzinski while he served as the offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers and Turner while he coached the San Diego Chargers. The list includes Brandon LaFell, Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd.
“He wants to work,” Weeden said of Little. “He’s got a great mentality, great attitude right now. As a quarterback … you just want to throw it to him because you know he’s going to compete, and he’s going to do his job to make a play. I’m excited with Greg. He wants to work after practice. He wants to talk before practice. He’s always wanting to do something to get better.”
For example, Little and fellow Browns receiver Josh Cooper spent three days earlier this month working out with Weeden in Oklahoma.
“It’s really good for [Weeden] to know he can throw the ball up, and I’m going to come down with it,” Little said.
“That just happens with repetition and building that relationship with him.”
Speaking of relationships, Little is still trying to gain trust from the new regime. Chudzinski and Co. are encouraged by Little’s offseason of progress, but they hope it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.