BEREA — Receiver Greg Little, a second-round draft pick in April, was the Browns’ biggest offseason acquisition at what many consider the team’s weakest position. He hasn’t played a game since 2009 and was kicked off the North Carolina team in one of the many scandals that eventually got coach Butch Davis fired.
The eyes of fans, teammates, coaches and the front office would’ve been on Little no matter what at the start of training camp. But with Mohamed Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs sidelined with leg injuries Sunday, Little was thrust into an even brighter spotlight as he took repetitions with the first-team offense.
“When the line gets shorter and guys get more reps, it helps them,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “If they can handle it and they’re in shape to handle it, the more you do something the better you get. I think it’s going to help him.”
Little took the opportunity in stride. He said he benefited from summer workouts with quarterback Colt McCoy that helped with camaraderie and terminology and gave him a feel for how McCoy reads a defense and throws the ball. Plus, he has experience in a West Coast system.
“I just think me coming from a pro-style West Coast Offense in college helps me tremendously, to be able to step in and be with the ones and be under that fire, so to speak,” Little said following the morning practice. “It’s a great learning experience for me.”
Little, the No. 59 overall pick, had a couple of drops in his first two days as a professional but also made a number of catches. The West Coast system is all about quick throws and run after catch, an area in which Little has excelled with his background as a running back. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he’s big enough to break tackles and catch balls in traffic.
“What you notice about him, there were a couple situations today, he’s pretty good when they’re body-to-body,” Shurmur said. “He finds a way to separate in a short area.”
The Browns have been desperate for a No. 1 receiver since former coach Eric Mangini traded Braylon Edwards in 2009. Little didn’t fall into the trap of projecting himself as the top guy.
“It’s training camp, man. It’s Day 2,” he said. “Just become a player that produces and helps us win games.
“If things transpire that, if I put myself in that situation, I’d happily step up to the plate.”
Some rust would be natural considering Little missed the 2010 season when he was declared permanently ineligible by the NCAA for accepting $4,952 in improper benefits from an agent. Little said the transition has been smooth so far, but the rust may surface when they practice in pads.
“I prepared myself in the offseason,” he said. “When we kinda start to get in and bang around a little (maybe that’s when I’ll feel the rust).”
Little’s dismissal from the Tar Heels was followed this spring by a revelation that he got 86 parking tickets in five cars during his time in Chapel Hill. A search of North Carolina’s database revealed he was cited while driving a gray Dodge, gray Nissan, green BMW, black Acura and black Honda.
Little was asked how determined he is to be a model citizen with the Browns.
“It’s not something that more or less I’m determined to do. It’s just the right thing to do,” he said. “I’ve always done that, but some of the things have overshadowed some of the good things I’ve done in the community. And that’s OK because I don’t do things to say, ‘Hey, look at me, this is what I’m doing.’ It’s just the right thing to do.”
Little, helped by a beard and chiseled frame, looks older than his 22 years. His maturity may be a concern for the Browns brass following the troubles at North Carolina.
“He’s a fun guy to work with, very talented,” Shurmur said. “You’ll find with guys that are playmakers that they have a lot of confidence in their ability.
“One of the first things we talk about is being coachable. Being able to stand there and listen. What I’ve seen from him is that he’s very coachable so far and I think that will bode well for him.”
Little had 86 catches for 969 yards and six touchdowns in three years at North Carolina. He was used as a running back as a sophomore and had 166 carries for 805 yards and six touchdowns in his career. In 13 starts at wideout in 2009, he led the team with 62 catches for 724 yards and five touchdowns.
Little said he was close to Davis, who coached the Browns from 2001-04. He was shocked Davis was fired last week with the season about to start.
“It was a terrible thing to see him be removed from that program and all the remarkable things that he has done, and I think it was something beyond his power that he couldn’t control,” Little said.
Little was asked if he feels responsible for the firing.
“I don’t know. They’re going to start at the head figure because I guess they look at him as being over everyone and being able to be in control,” he said. “But once players step outside of the building and go home, he leaves it up as the responsibility of the young man to take care of yourself.”
The two talked after Little was drafted.
“Coach Davis, he talked tremendously about this town and this community and he spoke so highly of the type of fans that were going to be behind me and he said I’d fit in great,” Little said.