Marla Ridenour: Browns shouldn't give up on Greg Little - yet

Akron Beacon JournalSeptember 17, 2013 

— Hire him a driver.

Find him a mentor.

Remind him of the ramifications of his thoughtless actions on his football family.

But don’t cut Greg Little now.

That’s what many Browns fans wanted after the receiver was stopped by the Cleveland police at Elm Street and Riverbed Avenue at 1 a.m. Monday and cited for stop sign and change of course violations, as well as driving under a suspended license. The Browns returned Sunday night from Baltimore, where a 14-6 loss to the Ravens dropped them to 0-2.

Faithful followers wanted Browns first-year coach Rob Chudzinski, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, to make an example of Little, a serial offender. This marked his fourth traffic violation in Northeast Ohio since April 13, when he was charged with drag racing on the Jennings Freeway and told police he’d been driving 127mph in a 55-mph zone. Add to that his 93 parking tickets at the University of North Carolina and he seems to have a reckless sense of entitlement.

It does not appear that Chudzinski and the Browns’ front office will capitulate to the fans’ wishes, although Little, 24, could be fined. Chudzinski said Monday any penalty would be kept in house, which wouldn’t seem to indicate a change in his playing time. He planned to speak with Little on Monday afternoon.

Alcohol has not proven to be involved in any of Little’s citations. His continued offenses show us more about his immaturity, poor judgment and lack of regard for his teammates. But that sounds like another of Chudzinski’s problem children, tight end Kellen Winslow, whom Chudzinski coached with the Browns during 2004.

Chudzinski is trying to reach several Browns who have issues on and off the field, including receiver Josh Gordon, returning this week from a two-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

“I think we’ve made progress in a lot of areas with a lot of guys,” Chudzinski said. “You just have to keep chipping away. The guys who have ability, the guys who have character, the guys who want to be good and want to be great will get that. And eventually they do.”

If the Browns eventually become fed up with Little, his dropped passes likely would be at the top of their list, not his DMV report. In two games, Little has been targeted 22 times, the most on the team, but he has only eight receptions for 59 yards. Sunday at Baltimore, he dropped two passes during the fourth quarter.

ProFootballFocus.com charges Little with three drops this season (one Sunday), nine during 2012 and 14 in 2011. It charts the number of times receivers are thrown at, not targets like the NFL. According to its figures, Little has caught the ball 56percent of the time he has been thrown at during his career, which seems sub-par for a second-round pick (2011).

The Browns have to be frustrated that Little worked hard during the offseason to improve, but he hasn’t produced when it counts. He spent time away from Berea with Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden. Little also sought inspiration from such unusual sources as former NBA star Alonzo Mourning, whom he spent two hours with over lunch during last season’s bye week.

“I’ve seen guys improve,” Chudzinski said Monday. “From his standpoint, it’s not for the lack of work ethic. It’s a matter of getting it done in the game situation and gaining confidence in himself. You keep working at it, you keep working at it, you keep working at it, and finally you break through.”

Chudzinski does not seem ready to give up on Little and neither am I. The Browns have one of the weakest receiving corps in the NFL. Little would live up to his name on the trade market, unlikely to garner even a fourth-round pick. He is a big target (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) who doesn’t mind blocking. While one college recruiter told me Little lied to him all the way up until signing day, and Little sat out the 2010 season at North Carolina after taking money from an agent, he has been a personable young man who answers questions thoughtfully during his time with the Browns.

In Gordon’s absence, he has been forced into the No.1 role, which he obviously can’t handle. On a playoff-contending team, he probably would be the third or fourth receiver.

But Little should be coming into his own during his third year and that’s not happening. I understand fans’ frustration. Although less of a diva, he has a little Braylon Edwards in him.

But with no capable replacements available (Mohamed Massaquoi or Brian Robiskie, anyone?), Chudzinski might keep Little around until the end of the season and hope he literally gets a grip. By then Little might have played his way – or driven his way – out of Cleveland.

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