BEREA — Receiver Greg Little promised Monday to remove the Usain Bolt pose from his celebration repertoire. If he can stop the drops and increase his production, coach Pat Shurmur and some vocal fans will have a lot less to criticize.
“If we were 3-0, I think everybody would be doing the pose, but we’re 0-3 so everybody does not want to see that,” said Little, who got grief after dropping a pass Sunday and celebrating a first-down catch with the Bolt pose in which he points both hands to the sky.
Little was the last player on the practice field Monday afternoon, standing a few yards in front of the JUGS machine as two ball boys fed it. A few hours earlier Shurmur had publicly challenged Little to fix his biggest problem and threatened to take away his starting job if he didn’t.
“We can’t play a guy that’s going to drop footballs,” Shurmur said.
Little reached double digits in drops last year as a rookie, ranking among the league leaders. The problem has persisted into his second season.
Little had a ball go off his hands inside the 5-yard line in the opening loss and it turned into an interception. In the 24-14 loss to the Bills on Sunday, he dropped a short third-down pass that would’ve gone for a first down and a big gain, possibly leading to points right before halftime.
“I just think we have to focus and catch the ball,” Little said, also referring to a third-down drop by receiver Travis Benjamin. “We all have the mentality when we get the ball we want to score. It doesn’t matter to us where we are on the field, when we get the ball we’re looking to head upfield. And I think we just didn’t catch it.”
Little expects to start Thursday night in Baltimore “for sure” and said he’s not worried about losing playing time.
“No, not one bit,” he said. “I think my preparation in the week and my preparation leading up to this point is putting me to where I’ll be in the game.
“I think me maximizing every opportunity that I have to have the ball in my hand, which is every play that’s not a run play, I think that that’ll leave me on the field.”
Shurmur didn’t question Little’s dedication, just his ability to hang on often enough.
“Greg is working extremely hard,” he said. “Greg’s extremely tough and Greg has to be more consistent catching the football. That’s it.”
Little didn’t play his senior year at North Carolina after an NCAA suspension for accepting illegal benefits, so he was viewed as a project when the Browns drafted him in the second round. He finished with a team-high 61 catches as a rookie with 709 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think the false interpretation of all this is that he’s not being worked with, right?” Shurmur said. “Trust me, he’s being worked with.”
Shurmur was referring to drops and the Bolt pose.
“Whether people see me ranting and raving on the sideline at a player, trust me, I’ve had my conversations with him,” Shurmur said.
So Little will put aside the pose.
“I just feel like we didn’t have the start to the season as we wanted to have and I just think this is just being looked at as a negative thing,” Little said. “I don’t want that, so it’s easy for me to stop.
“I’ll just give the normal point with one finger, I guess, as everybody else does.”
Little was ripped on Twitter for posting a picture of himself posing after the loss to the Bengals in Week 2. He also heard criticism for an elaborate dance after scoring a fourth-quarter touchdown with the Browns trailing by 10. Little responded on Twitter that he didn’t care what the fans thought.
Despite the backlash, he still struck the Bolt pose Sunday. He insisted it wasn’t a statement to the fans.
“I’m not saying anything to the fans at all,” he said. “It’s just when I’m playing I’m not thinking about the fans. I’m in the game, so I don’t think about the fans at all.
“They just want us to win more than anything. I think once we win, all the games will stop.”
Even if Shurmur wanted to bench Little, the timing is tricky. No. 1 receiver Mohamed Massaquoi pulled a hamstring Sunday, left the game, didn’t practice Monday and Shurmur said he’s day-to-day. The Browns also have a short week — they play Thursday night in Baltimore — which would make changing the rotation more difficult.
If Massaquoi doesn’t play, Jordan Norwood would be active for the first time this year. Joshua Cribbs, who gained 24 yards on his only catch against the Bills, could also see more time.
“He’s had a role each week and he was in there a couple other times when we didn’t get him the ball,” Shurmur said. “But I think he’s been very productive with his returns and I think of those as offensive plays as well.”
Little said he’s received tough love from coaches since his dad held the role for every sport while he grew up. So he considers himself coachable.
“I think Coach likes to coach me hard because he knows I’ll respond well to it,” Little said. “Anytime that your dad is the coach, he’s going to coach you the hardest out of anybody that’s on the team and I think that’s the way I kind of respond better to things.”