By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns coach Rob Chudzinski demoted wide receiver Greg Little from the starting lineup, citing Little’s performance on the field as the main reason.
Although Little will still play Sunday when the Browns (0-2) visit the Minnesota Vikings (0-2), Chudzinski said wide receivers Davone Bess and Josh Gordon will start. Bess will replace Little as a starter, and Gordon, the team’s No. 1 receiver, will play for the first time this season after serving a two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
Chudzinski, through a team spokesman, said the decision to bench Little was primarily based on Little’s struggles on the field. He has dropped two passes in each of the first two games, both of which he started. He was targeted 22 times but has just eight catches for 59 yards.
Little also has struggled off the field, building upon his long list of traffic violations when he was pulled over by Cleveland police at 1 a.m. Monday. He was most recently cited for stop sign, change of course and driving under suspension violations, and his car was towed.
Little also was ticketed Aug. 19 for driving 81 mph in a 60 mph zone on Interstate 71 in Strongsville. He was charged May 28 with parking illegally, driving a vehicle that was not registered and using dealer license plates that were not issued for the vehicle. He was cited for numerous violations April 13 after he told police that he was driving 127 mph in a 55 mph zone on the Jennings Freeway in Cleveland when he lost control of his Audi, crashing it into a guardrail, knocking down a light pole and leaving about 40 yards of brake tracks.
“There’s a lot of people in [Little’s] ear just with a lot that’s been going on,” Bess said. “He’s his own man. We’re all here for him. He’s one of our teammates. He’s a big part of this team. We’ve just got to keep honing in on the small things, the details, and that goes across the board, not even just Greg, everybody, on and off the field.”
Little has started 30-of-34 games since the Browns drafted him in the second round in 2011. He started all 16 games last season, even though ex-Browns coach Pat Shurmur threatened to bench him for dropping passes and imitating Olympic track star Usain Bolt’s trademark pose to signal first downs after he caught a ball.
Chudzinski, though, didn’t publicly fire a warning shot this time around like Shurmur. He simply benched Little, who will be part of a rotation of receivers Sunday. Travis Benjamin and Josh Cooper will also be available to supplement Bess and Gordon.
The Browns waived wide receiver Tori Gurley on Tuesday to clear room for Gordon’s return to the active roster Wednesday, when he practiced for the first time since the preseason. Gurley was re-signed to the practice squad Wednesday.
They traded for Bess in a swap of draft picks with the Miami Dolphins and viewed him as their No. 3 receiver entering the season. He leads the team’s wide receivers with 10 catches for 85 yards heading into Week 3.
“[Preparing to start has] been my approach since I have been in the league,” Bess said.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s reigning Most Valuable Player, thought the Browns might have drafted him third overall in 2007. Instead, they picked left tackle Joe Thomas, and the Vikings selected Peterson seventh overall.
“If anything, they’re probably more upset than I am still to this day,” Peterson said Wednesday during a conference call.
It’s difficult to second-guess former Browns General Manager Phil Savage for picking Thomas, who has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first six seasons.
But Peterson is a five-time Pro Bowl selection and widely considered the best running back in the league.
“I thought there was an opportunity I’d end up [with the Browns],” Peterson said. “Fortunately, they went with the tackle. He’s still been doing a good job. It was a good pick for them. I don’t know, the fans might have wanted something with a little more action back there than a left tackle, but he’s been doing a pretty good job.”
Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns last season despite suffering torn ligaments in his left knee on Dec. 24, 2011. He fell nine yards short of breaking hall of famer Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards that was established in 1984.
Chudzinski ruled out backup outside linebacker and special-teams captain Quentin Groves (sprained ankle) for Sunday. Groves has been wearing a walking boot and using crutches since he suffered the injury Sunday.
Starting left defensive end Ahtyba Rubin (calf) and starting right guard Shawn Lauvao (high ankle sprain) returned to practice Wednesday on a limited basis. Both players sat out the first two games of the season.
Rubin participated in individual drills during the 30-minute portion of practice open to the media. Lauvao did not hit the blocking sled while the other offensive linemen did.
Strong safety T.J. Ward (shoulder) and defensive end Desmond Bryant (wrist) fully participated in practice.