BEREA — Browns wide receiver Greg Little and quarterback Brandon Weeden have experienced similar, disappointing seasons.
Both players were in the starting lineup in Week 1, only to lose their jobs by mid-September. Little was demoted due to his performance, while Weeden suffered an injury.
Though Weeden reclaimed his job and Little has escaped the coaches’ doghouse, they had something else in common Sunday: Both were lustily booed during a 31-17 home loss to the Detroit Lions.
“Once we get back in the swing of things and are winning, those fans that boo will be the same fans that cheer,” said Little, who is averaging a career-low 2.7 receptions per game.
“So that’s going to make me laugh, that’s for sure. “I don’t mind taking criticism. We’re all a team and the common goal is to win. We still just got to go out and play.”
The third-year pro spoke to the media Thursday for the first time since Sept. 15 in Baltimore, patiently answering questions for 15 minutes.
Little said he hasn’t been avoiding the press since losing his starting job to Davone Bess, but has been spending extra time in the film room working with Weeden.
“I’ve been in there a lot with Brandon and also have been lifting weights,” the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder said. “I know I have to make time for the media, but usually (the access period) is right after practice and I didn’t want to break my routine.
“I’ve never had a problem talking with you guys or anything like that. It’s just me trying to work on some things and keep moving forward.”
Little had nowhere to move but forward after a disastrous four-game stretch to open the season. He had only 11 receptions for 78 yards — and was blanked on Sept. 25 against Cincinnati — while dropping a number of passes.
The lack of productivity stunned Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski, who dropped his former lead wideout so far down the depth chart that Little’s only contributions in Week 4 came as a kickoff returner.
“Not being in the lineup was awakening, but my performance itself was a wake-up call,” said Little, who led the Browns in receptions in 2011 and ’12. “I just was not performing the way I wanted to, catching the ball, but I’m still working as hard as I always have.
“I think I’m playing better, but, of course, there are areas to get better in throughout the week.”
Despite being listed behind Bess on the team’s official depth chart, Little joined Weeden on the field for the opening snap against the Lions. It was both players’ first start since a 14-6 loss to the Ravens one month earlier.
The duo hooked up for a 2-yard touchdown pass — the first time Little reached the end zone this season — but only connected twice in the five times Weeden threw the ball in his direction.
One of those misfires should have an asterisk, however, as Little appeared to make a gorgeous 25-yard sideline catch in the fourth quarter that was ruled incomplete.
A replay review confirmed the call, even though television footage appeared to show Little got both feet inbounds with possession of the ball. Cleveland only trailed 21-17 at the time, but was forced to punt and never recovered.
“That was a huge, huge play in the game,” he said. “I knew for a fact I was inbounds. My left foot did make a mark in the grass and my right foot slammed down on the ground. I would have liked to know what they were thinking. Then again, it was just one play and one play never really loses the game.”
That one play, though, could have turned around Little’s season. He ranks fifth on the Browns with 16 receptions for 161 yards through six games, putting him well off the 3.6-catch per game pace he had over his first two NFL seasons.
Little struggled badly with Weeden, but fared even worse with Brian Hoyer at quarterback until Hoyer suffered a season-ending right knee injury Oct. 3 against Buffalo.
“Early on, it was more (my fault) than Brandon,” Little said. “I was just pushing myself trying to do more than what was there, trying to hit a home run on every ball. I need to just get a base hit and keep it moving. And if more is there, then I’m going to try to make more of it.”
Little’s on-field struggles are even more magnified because off-field clouds continue to hover over him.
The 2011 second-round draft choice has been dogged by traffic violations — picking up three more in the hours following the loss to Baltimore — and trade rumors that won’t stop until he is either dealt or the Oct. 29 NFL deadline passes.
Little’s name also has popped up in Chapel Hill, N.C., as part of an ongoing fraud investigation of agent Terry Watson, who was charged in a 13-count indictment last week.
Little, a former Tar Heels speedster, was suspended for the 2010 NCAA season after allegedly accepting money from Watson, hastening his decision to turn pro.
“None of that bothers me because the thing is, I don’t even know about it unless our PR staff tells me,” Little said. “I haven’t heard anything about a trade from participants than matter and I don’t even know who’s getting charged with what.
“I mean, that is what it is. I’m just going to continue to play hard because I want to get better every week and continue to make game-changing plays.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.