BEREA: Greg Little could run endless routes and catch passes throughout his NCAA suspension, but what he couldn’t simulate was getting tackled.
Turns out, Little is pretty good at hitting back.
Little caught four passes in last week’s win over the Indianapolis Colts and is quickly emerging as a viable target in the Browns’ inexperienced offense. He is a powerful, physical receiver whose strength is his ability to run after the catch. He was forced to sit his final year at North Carolina because of NCAA violations.
“My rust was not being tackled,” he said Thursday. “I feel pretty good. Once you’ve been banged around, you’ve been hit and you’ve seen what the game is like … you’re knowledgeable of what you’re supposed to be doing.”
In addition to the NCAA violations, Little had 93 parking tickets on various cars across campus. The Browns were exhaustive in their research of him following the missteps, but found him to be extremely bright and confident.
“Picking up [the offense] wasn’t going to be a major issue,” Browns General Manager Tom Heckert said. “Obviously we’re happy. Anytime you get a rookie, you just don’t know how fast they’re going to pick it up.”
Little is still searching for his first NFL touchdown and nearly had it last week against the Colts. He scored in a preseason game and punted the ball into the stands — just as he did during his final college game two years ago — but he promised he won’t be doing that again.
“It’s not premeditated,” Little said of his celebrations. “It’s just joy and excitement.”
Little’s early production illustrates the success of the new regime, which has focused on rebuilding this team through the draft instead of free agency. Eight of the Browns’ starters were drafted within the past two years. That doesn’t include Little, who is still considered a reserve.
“Right now they look pretty good, but I’m not ready to say we’re going to win four Super Bowls just because of these two draft classes,” Heckert said. “They’ve played well so far, but they have to continue to do that.
“We should hit on the first- and second-round guys. We need to do that or you’re going to be a disaster. Where I get the most production is the other guys who are third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-rounders. If you hit on those guys, that’s how you really build a team for a long time and you can stay young and have depth.”
The Browns were mostly inactive during free agency, instead choosing to spend their cap space to extend their own guys like Joe Thomas, Evan Moore and Ahtyba Rubin. They continue to work on an extension for Peyton Hillis, and Heckert on Thursday didn’t rule out trying to extend middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who has returned after missing two years with injuries. What he won’t do is dip into free agency for a pricey contract.
“I’ve been doing this a long time. I think there are way more mistakes made in free agency than home runs,” Heckert said. “A guy might be an OK player, but you’re paying him as a really good player and it affects your whole structure. It’s not the way to do it.”
The Browns are continuing to work on an extension with Hillis, who doesn’t seem to mind negotiating during the season. Most players end all contract talks once the season begins, but Hillis is still open to talking.
“The bottom line is that it’s not up to me in the end,” Hillis said. “When people say they want to stop negotiating, it’s because they want to play better and they don’t want the figure to hang over their heads. If they want to come back and talk, I’m open.”
Heckert refused to talk about negotiations.
“Until we get a contract done with somebody we’re not going to talk about it,” Heckert said.
The NFL is cracking down on defenses that fake injuries to slow hurry-up offenses, but Browns coach Pat Shurmur doesn’t seem concerned with it.
“I think it has gone on, but I’ve never coached it,” Shurmur said. “Now that it’s been brought to everyone’s attention, you’re hearing players talk about other places they’ve been and how it’s been talked about. I’ll kind of leave it at that until it affects us.”
Linebacker Scott Fujita said earlier this week it was taught at other places where he has played.
Shurmur said in training camp he wanted Kent State product Usama Young to take over the starting job at free safety, but a hamstring injury slowed him down and Mike Adams continued to play well.
Young and Adams are splitting the snaps there, but Shurmur said it’s still possible Young could wrestle away the starting job if his health continues to improve.
“It’s a real possibility,” Shurmur said. “I feel like we’ve got three safeties playing and doing a nice job. It’s a very long season.”
Right tackle Tony Pashos practiced for the second consecutive day while rebounding from a left ankle injury. Artis Hicks and Oniel Cousins continued to rotate at right tackle with the starters. … Mohamed Massaquoi (ankle) was again listed as a limited participant in practice, but Shurmur isn’t concerned about him. … Fujita will be on Jim Rome’s radio show this afternoon on WKNR.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.