April 17, 2014

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Petrak: Little showing some maturity

Greg Little grew up some over the bye week.
The Browns receiver was introduced to former NBA star Alonzo Mourning by a friend and became mesmerized during a two-hour lunch in Miami. Little went against his personality and stopped talking, because he couldn’t help but listen to Mourning.
“I was lost with really how powerful the message was,” Little said.
He was so inspired, he shared it with all of his teammates when they reassembled Monday in Berea.
“What are you willing to give up to win?” Little asked. “What are you willing to sacrifice to finish this season out like we really want to?”
Social media was Little’s answer. He gave up Twitter nearly two months ago after a spat with fans over his drops, first-down poses and posting a picture of a touchdown celebration following a loss to Cincinnati.
After a difficult start to the season that included several drops, including a pivotal one in Baltimore, Little has been more consistent the last four weeks. The drops are down, he has 16 catches for 150 yards and a touchdown and his blocking has improved.
“I already gave up Twitter and if that means just doing whatever to get a win,” he said. “That’s what I devoted kind of my success to. It takes away from what you could be doing as a player to get better.”
Little, 23, has been a popular target of fed-up Browns fans. For each of the 51 times Brandon Weeden has thrown a pass in Little’s direction this season, the peeved public has tossed hundreds of insults his way.
He got off on the wrong foot with fans as a rookie by ranking among the league leaders with double-digit drops. He didn’t help himself when the drops continued into this season, and the frustrated fans didn’t appreciate the look-at-me posturing after first downs and touchdowns. Little compounded the public-relations problem by getting into a Twitter fight he couldn’t win.
For a guy that was banned by the NCAA for accepting illegal benefits and had nearly 100 parking tickets at North Carolina, the lack of maturity had become a disturbing trend.
But Little, 23, was never a bad guy only looking for attention. And he certainly wasn’t a lost cause.
He just needed to be open to advice. In the last month, he’s listened to the coaching staff and to Mourning, and that’s a significant sign of growth.
So is taking the initiative to talk to his teammates, many of whom are much older.
“He stepped up and talked to the team,” 29-year-old receiver Joshua Cribbs said. “He just had some words to say for us, encouraging words, encouraging us to do a little extra. If everybody does extra, we’ll be a complete football team.
“Everybody took it to heart coming from him. We were surprised and we back him 100 percent and I’m proud of him.”
The surprise comes from Little’s spot on the team’s hierarchy. He isn’t seen as a team leader, but as more of a good-natured joker.
“So anytime that I get up and say something, it’s a serious message,” Little said. “I think the guys were really shocked at the beginning and I think they took it well.”
The speech will only truly resonate if followed by action. Little must continue to catch the ball and increase his production – he has 27 catches for 301 yards and two touchdowns.
Part of his plan, reinforced by Mourning, is to keep spending more time on the JUGS machine before and after practice. Mourning relayed a story of Tiger Woods forcing himself to make 500 straight 5-foot putts.
“That was the way he was explaining to me about when I have drops, doing something so many times where it’s just muscle memory, and 500 putts is just crazy to me,” Little said. “I’m just doing more before and after practice, just trying to better myself as far as going the extra mile.”
The drops will never disappear completely, but coaches can live with an occasional one if they know the receiver is diligent in his preparation. Little appears headed down that path.
He’s only in his second season and seems willing to work at his craft and make sacrifices. He’s a smart guy that never had a veteran mentor inside Cleveland’s receivers room. He has the talent and selflessness to be a good player.
It’s worth sticking with him, and getting off his back as a fan base. Especially if he continues to listen to the right people.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.