By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: For the first time since Browns wide receiver Greg Little entered the NFL in 2011, he publicly lamented the damage he left behind at the University of North Carolina.
The school released letters Tuesday to media outlets in which it outlined its “permanent disassociation” from Little, St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn and NFL free-agent defensive tackle Marvin Austin because of their NCAA violations that resulted in criminal charges against five people for violating the state’s sports agent law, the Associated Press reported. The letters, which were dated Nov. 15, prohibit the three players from contacting UNC athletes, bar them from campus athletic facilities and ban them from providing recruiting or financial assistance for athletics.
The NCAA declared Little and Quinn permanently ineligible in 2010 and the school dismissed Austin from the Tar Heels team after they accepted improper benefits, including cash and travel accommodations. Sanctions were levied against the football program, and recent charges were filed against five people for violating the state’s Uniform Athlete Agents Act.
“I think there’s been some wrongful accusing,” Little said Wednesday before practice. “There’s a lot of people that I’ve hurt, and I think a lot of the blame should be put on me much less than attacking other people. I kind of understand what they’re doing. They’re just trying to protect the athlete. A lot of the times it’s just self-inflicted.”
Little said he has not seen the letter UNC sent him, but his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told him about it.
“It is what it is,” said Little, a second-round draft pick in 2011. “North Carolina’s a great university and I wish things weren’t the way they were, and I’ll just continue to support them from afar.”
An investigation by the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office outlined numerous violations such as Little and Austin arranging to receive packages of cash through the mail or a third party, the Associated Press reported. According to a June search warrant, Little told investigators he received more than $20,000 from Georgia-based agent Terry Watson in 2010, including a $2,200 monthly allowance.
Little, 24, insisted he has been assured charges won’t be brought against him.
“I met with the state of North Carolina a little while ago,” Little said. “They said nothing legal will ever be brought up on you.”
Reiterating what he said last month, Little explained he had been intentionally staying away from his old football program because he didn’t want to add to the controversy he created.
“I try to stay away from North Carolina, period,” Little said. “I just don’t like to bring any kind of distractions or anything like that, but I’ll just continue to support them from afar.”
The Browns placed punt returner Armanti Edwards on season-ending injured reserve and promoted fellow wide receiver Josh Cooper from the practice squad to the active roster, the team announced Wednesday.
Edwards signed with the Browns on Oct. 30 and appeared in two games with the team before suffering an ankle injury Sunday in a 41-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. He tallied one reception for 10 yards and returned four punts for 28 yards (7.0 average).
Edwards was acquired to serve as the primary punt returner after Travis Benjamin suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Oct. 27 in a 23-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
With Edwards out, wide receiver Davone Bess and rookie safety Jordan Poyer will serve as the team’s main punt returners Sunday when the Browns (4-6) host the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-6), Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. Cornerback Joe Haden is considered an emergency backup.
After Benjamin was hurt against the Chiefs, Bess fumbled a crucial punt in the fourth quarter with the Browns trailing by three points.
“If they need me, I’ll be ready,” Bess said Wednesday. “Whatever they need me at, I’ll be ready, whatever role that is.”
Edwards and rookie tight end MarQueis Gray (hamstring) were college quarterbacks who Chudzinski considered contingency plans at the position, but they’re both hurt. As a result, Bess will also serve as the Browns’ emergency third-string quarterback behind Jason Campbell, the starter, and backup Brandon Weeden, Chudzinski said.
The Browns signed wide receiver Reggie Dunn to the practice squad.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 15-1 as a starter against the Browns, but he doesn’t expect a cakewalk Sunday. The Browns’ defense is ranked fifth in the NFL (306.5 yards allowed per game), fourth against the pass (207.5) and eighth against the run (99.0).
“They’re an incredibly good defense from top to bottom, up front, the back end, everywhere,” Roethlisberger said. “This is a huge challenge for us, the biggest and toughest test we’re going to face to date. This is not going to be easy.”
Roethlisberger said Joe Haden is “playing as good as any cornerback in this league.” He also described inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson as “rock solid.”
“When you talk about all the personnel, I don’t think there’s a weakness in the defense,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t think that there’s one specific spot that you can say, ‘We’ve got to attack,’ because every single area on that defense is a strength for them, in my eyes and in our opinion.”
Other injury updates
Starting inside linebacker Craig Robertson suffered a sprained knee Sunday, Chudzinski said. He did not practice Wednesday.
“We’ll see where he’s at in the next couple days,” Chudzinski said.
Tank Carder will start in Robertson’s place if he is sidelined Sunday. He filled in Sunday against the Bengals after Robertson was hurt.
“I thought he did a solid job, particularly not getting a lot of reps during the course of the week and stepping in,” Chudzinski said of Carder, a second-year NFL player and former standout at Texas Christian University. “He’s been a real plus for us on special teams. In college, I know he was an MVP in the Rose Bowl and has some good traits.”
Gray and rookie defensive end Armonty Bryant (back) also did not practice Wednesday.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown released a statement this week urging the Federal Communications Commission to eliminate the Sports Blackout Rule, a 1970s-era regulation that allows the NFL to black out broadcasts of a local game when the stadium attendance does not meet a sellout threshold.
“The FCC should do the right thing and eliminate the NFL’s antiquated blackout rule,” Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, said in the statement. “Even though the NFL is the world’s most profitable sports league, every year it imposes blackouts to increase profits at the expense of loyal fans. This is unacceptable at a time when the price of attending games continues to rise and the economy is not yet where it needs to be. That is why I will continue to fight this rule and for the FCC to reconsider its position.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.