The case for sticking with Little

Posted Sep 17, 2013

Browns Senior Editor Vic Carucci makes the case for the team to hang onto troubled wide receiver Greg Little.

A number of you are done with Greg Little.

You say so in tweets and in e-mails and in angry calls to sports-talk radio shows.

You want the Browns to cut him. Yesterday.

You’ve had enough of the dropped passes and off-field transgressions involving his proclivity for driving too fast and driving when, legally, he shouldn’t be driving.

You’re looking for the Browns to make a statement by making Little go away. Something along the lines of, “We won’t tolerate consistent mistakes that reflect poorly on the product and the organization. We stand for something better than that.”

I can see the logic in that perspective.

But I see greater logic in the Browns giving Little more time to straighten out his act as a player and a person. It might very well mean that he doesn’t start Sunday against the Vikings, although that probably would have as much to do with Davone Bess proving to be a more reliable receiver and deserving of a promotion from his slot role. 

However, it just seems to make sense for the Browns to allow Little to demonstrate that he, in fact, can work his way toward at least an acceptable level of competence, if not a bit more.

Let’s start with the drops, which have been a constant problem since his arrival in Cleveland as a second-round draft pick in 2011. Little has invested considerable time and effort to correct this glaring hole in his game. Anyone who watched him during offseason workouts and training-camp practices could see that once each session was over, he would head straight for the Jugs machine, which uses two spinning tires to launch footballs at varying speeds and trajectories. Day after day, Little would catch countless passes from that contraption. He showed, by his actions, that he wanted to improve as a receiver – that he wanted to make those shaky hands more trustworthy. 

Another problem for Little has been his inability to create separation from defenders.

To a great extent, the drops and the lack of separation are related. 

On many occasions, when Little is about to catch (or drop) a pass, he has defender close by. This is not to suggest that he has even the tiniest sense of trepidation about being hit. He doesn’t. Little is as tough and as physical as any receiver (or player at any position) as the Browns have. He is one of the best blocking receivers in the NFL. 

But the mere presence of a nearby defender seems to be enough to throw off his concentration, which is a major flaw in his game.

There is reason to believe that could change beginning on Sunday. That’s because on Sunday the Browns will have their No. 1 receiver, Josh Gordon, back in the lineup after he served a two-game suspension.

It is fair to say that Gordon’s absence has had a detrimental impact on the Browns’ passing game. It made life more difficult for quarterback Brandon Weeden, who has had no big-play target beyond tight end Jordan Cameron. It made life more difficult for the Browns’ offensive line, which was forced to hold its blocks longer as Weeden struggled to find open receivers. It made life more difficult for Trent Richardson, who dealt with extra defenders crowding the line of scrimmage because opponents had nothing to fear in the Browns’ passing game.

But no one has had a tougher time with the effects of Gordon’s suspension than Little, who has been the Browns’ No. 1 receiver the past two weeks. Little is not a good fit in that spot, because he doesn’t have the speed to get away from defenders. If, in fact, he winds up as the No. 3 receiver against the Vikings, behind Gordon and Bess, he is bound to have more opportunities to catch passes with fewer people around him.

And that, in theory, should lead to fewer drops.

As for his off-field behavior, Little needs to simply put as much effort into growing up as he does into improving his hands.

And he needs to get comfortable with allowing others to drive him to where he needs to go.

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