So far, it appears their gamble will pay off nicely.
In his first four games, the rookie has shown signs of being a legitimate playmaker, while not displaying any of the careless behavior that earned him a permanent ban from NCAA competition.
“Coach (Pat) Shurmur feels like I’m going to be a pretty good player, and I want to reward him,” Little said Tuesday following practice.
“He asked me early on, ‘Does yelling bother you?’ and I told him he could coach me how he wanted to coach me. He really has a way of reaching me and constructively criticizing that works.”
Instead of focusing on the illegal benefits he received from an agent or the nearly 100 parking tickets Little received while with the Tar Heels, Cleveland fans have seen a player with obvious athleticism and charisma.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder made a season-high six receptions Sunday in the Browns’ 31-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Four of those catches earned first downs, including a 25-yarder that is his longest as a pro.
“Greg made plays and I think we need to help that blossom,” Shurmur said. “We need to put him in position and give him a chance.
“I’ve said it all along, Sunday is his favorite day. When he puts that game uniform on, he brightens up and he’s ready to roll.”
Little said his relationship with Shurmur is much like the one he cultivated with ex-North Carolina (and Browns) coach Butch Davis, who he still enjoys impersonating. He said that spoofing Shurmur is part of his comedy repertoire, as well, but wouldn’t imitate him publicly.
“I tend to gravitate toward my coaches a lot because I have respect for them,” said Little, who is tied for third on the Browns with 14 receptions. “Even when he got on me in training camp, I liked being around Coach Shurmur a lot, just like I did being around Coach Davis.”
The feeling is mutual, according to Shurmur, who continues to keep close tabs on Little. He insists the 22-year-old wideout is maturing as a person, as well as an athlete, but realizes the process is a marathon, not a sprint.
“Our extra talks are daily, and it depends on what’s happened with him as to what the talks relate to,” Shurmur said. “It could be telling him those (multicolored shoe) laces are going to cost you five grand or whatever (in an NFL fine). Different things like that.
“I enjoy Greg because he can make plays. I enjoy the fact that he likes to play the game and he’s a football player, so I enjoy working with him. But the talks, they haven’t stopped, they’re pretty consistent.”
- Pro Bowl center Alex Mack (abdominal surgery) remained in the hospital as of Tuesday evening, one day after having an appendectomy. Shurmur said Mack was “resting comfortably” and was visited by team trainer Joe Sheehan. “Appendicitis is obviously pretty difficult to deal with, let alone play an entire NFL game, so that tells you how tough Alex is,” left tackle Joe Thomas said, referring to his teammate’s effort against Tennessee. “That’s why, even if we didn’t have a bye this week, I think he would play.” Illustrating just how focused Mack is on his job, he asked to have his grade sheet from the Titans game delivered to him at the hospital. The Browns’ next game is Oct. 16 at the Oakland Raiders.
- Cornerback Joe Haden (left knee sprain) and wide receiver Joshua Cribbs (mild knee sprain) both showed progress, according to their coach, but were held out of practice for precautionary reasons. “I’m not ruling any of them out for Oakland,” Shurmur said. “We’re hoping for the best in each case.”
- Practice squad running back Xavier Omon was excused from team activities because his girlfriend was giving birth.
Join the club
Kicker Phil Dawson has played for six head coaches during his 13 years in Cleveland, all of whom have quickly grown to appreciate his knowledge of local weather.
Shurmur joined that club when the ninth-most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history made 48- and 51-yarders in gusty conditions against Tennessee.
“I gained an appreciation for our kicker, for sure, in that game,” the coach said. “Kickers are like meteorologists, and Phil knows exactly how the wind blows in our stadium.
“Before the game, I’m looking at the flags thinking we should kick one way, but he was like, ‘No, no,’ — and he was right.”
- The Browns will hold a light conditioning session today in Berea before beginning their league-mandated, four-day break during the bye week.
- Thomas said he will make a quick trip home to Wisconsin in order to do some deer hunting and fishing.
- Little planned to attend the J. Cole concert Tuesday at “House of Blues Cleveland” and might travel to the North Carolina vs. Louisville college football game Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.