By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns wide receiver Greg Little broke his monthlong silence Thursday and lamented the disappointing production that led to his demotion earlier this season.
“My performance itself was a wake-up call,” Little said, speaking to local beat writers for the first time since coach Rob Chudzinski benched him after a 14-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens Sept. 15. “Not being in the lineup was a wakening.”
Little excelled during organized team activities this past spring and training camp in the summer. He received praise from coaches and teammates for his dedication and seemed to be headed for a breakout season. Reporters wrote about how he carried himself differently and how he appeared to be more focused and mature than ever.
But once the season started, the buzz surrounding Little faded. He dropped two passes in each of the first two games, according to the Beacon Journal’s count, and had just eight catches for 59 yards despite being targeted 22 times. Although Little put in plenty of extra work with quarterback Brandon Weeden throughout the offseason, they weren’t connecting much once the real games began.
“It was more me than Brandon,” Little said. “I was just pushing myself, trying to do more than what was there, trying to hit a home run on every ball. [I need] to just hit a base hit and keep it moving.”
In the past two games, Little has shown some improvement, catching five passes in 10 targets for 83 yards. Upon returning to the starting lineup this past weekend, he caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Weeden in the second quarter of a 31-17 loss to the Detroit Lions. He has also served as a kickoff returner in each of the past four games.
Little is determined to remain a starter as the Browns (3-3) prepare to visit the Green Bay Packers (3-2) Sunday.
“I think I am playing better,” said Little, who has caught 16 passes with 42 targets for 161 yards and a touchdown this season. “Of course, there are areas to get better in throughout the week. I’m just going to keep trying to continue to make plays and get better.”
If Little wants to capitalize on his second chance as a starter, he’ll need to prevent several potential distractions from getting in his way.
The morning of the Browns’ 31-27 win over the Minnesota Vikings, ESPN reported the Browns were fielding trade offers and were open to dealing Little and fellow wide receiver Josh Gordon. The next day, Chudzinski said the team had “no plans” to trade either player.
With the NFL trade deadline approaching Oct. 29, Little said the rumors don’t bother him.
“I haven’t heard anything from participants that matter,” said Little, whom the previous regime drafted in the second round in 2011. “So I’m just going to continue to play hard.”
Then there’s the bad publicity Little has received not only for a slew of well-documented traffic violations in Northeast Ohio, but also as a result of an agent being indicted and arrested for providing gifts to Little and two other former University of North Carolina football players.
A grand jury indicted agent Terry Watson with 13 counts of providing cash or travel accommodations to Little, Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn valued at nearly $24,000 in an effort to sign them. Nine of the charges focus on Little, and an unsealed indictment states that Watson provided him with $20,457.24 in benefits between May and October of 2010.
Little, though, insists Watson’s arrest isn’t even on his radar, let alone a distraction.
“The thing is I don’t even know about it unless our [media relations] staff tells me,” Little said. “I can honestly laugh about it this time because I’ve probably been back to North Carolina less times than I can count on one hand in the past eight months to a year, and I’ve been on campus probably two times in the past two years.”
But Little isn’t laughing about his history of trouble at North Carolina keeping him away from the school. He said he doesn’t go back often because he fears he’ll cause a distraction.
“It’s just always something,” Little said. “I remember having a camp and the radio station asking me about the North Carolina thing. It’s just always still muddy water there.”
Some fans would argue that Little has muddied the water in Cleveland, too. Many wanted the Browns to cut him when news broke about him being cited at 1 a.m. Sept. 16, hours after the Browns lost to the Ravens, for stop sign and change of course violations in addition to driving under a suspended license. It was his fourth traffic violation in Northeast Ohio since April 13, when he crashed his Audi on the Jennings Freeway and later told police he’d been driving 127 mph in a 55-mph zone when he lost control of the vehicle.
Little said he doesn’t “mind taking” heat for his actions on of off the field. When asked if he was staging a media boycott during his month of silence, he said “not really” and blamed weightlifting and film sessions with Weeden for his lack of availability to reporters.
This much is certain, though: Weeden needs support from his teammates in the wake of the Browns’ second-half collapse against the Lions, a loss marred by his back-handed, shovel-pass interception in the fourth quarter.
“It was a bad mistake at the wrong time,” Little said. “We always pick each other up. … He’s the quarterback, so he’s going to have to deal with [criticism]. They usually get the blame because it’s the easiest thing to point out. I think once we get back in the swing of things and are winning, I’m likely to see the fans that boo are the same fans that cheer. So that’s going to make me laugh. That’s for sure.”
Weeden also needs help from his targets, and Little might have provided significant assistance early in the fourth quarter Sunday, though he didn’t receive credit. Little is convinced he caught a deep pass from Weeden while falling backward and stayed in bounds with 9:41 left on second-and-25 from the Browns’ 19-yard line. Chudzinski challenged the incomplete call, but the officials upheld it after a replay review.
Little said he “knew for a fact” he made the catch inbounds, and he thought the replay shown on the scoreboard confirmed it.
“My left foot did make a mark in the grass,” Little said. “On the film, my right foot slammed down on the ground. My heel slammed down, and you could see it hit and pop back up.”
Even though Little didn’t get the result he wanted, perhaps the play is a sign that he is capable of turning his season around. The bottom line is it’s incumbent on him to follow through.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at . Read the Browns blog at . Follow him on Twitter at and on Facebook .