By tom Reed
The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer
Sheldon Brown required just five words to summarize the growth he and others are witnessing in Browns receiver Greg Little.
“He is becoming a pro,” the 33-year-old cornerback said.
Many assume that happens the moment a player signs his first contract or cashes his initial check. But for twenty-something kids fresh from college, the process can take a season or two. Sometimes a player can be out of the NFL before he understands what it means to be a pro.
Little is demonstrating more maturity and reliability after a turbulent start to a season that drew the wrath of fans and coaches. Prodded by coach Pat Shurmur and pushed by rookie wideout Josh Gordon, the second-year North Carolina product has cut down on his dropped passes and reeled in his persona.
The result: 16 receptions for 150 yards in the past four games. He has an many touchdowns (one) as he does drops in that span — and without a single Tweet. The engaging Little still believes he’s misunderstood by fans, but such opinion is easier to accept when he’s catching passes and finishing blocks.
“I think in times of adversity it shows you who you are,’” Little said when asked about what he’s learned about himself this season. “It’s easy to be cheery when everything is OK. Adversity shows who you are as a person and your character.”
After catches, Little has eschewed the Usain Bolt pose — the one which annoyed Shurmur — even as he still marks first downs with an arm slightly extended before dropping the ball. His boycott of Twitter has stretched into a seventh week after clashing with fans on it over poses and celebrations in a losing effort.
Brown believes the social-media backlash might have done some good.
“I’ve seen a difference in him since he stopped Tweeting,” Brown said. “When you do that kind of stuff, people start focusing on you more. You make small mistakes and they become magnified ...
“[Fan reaction] probably shocked him. You are a grown-up now. This is not college.”
Little said those closest to him, teammates, friends and coaches, know the type of person he is. By most accounts, Little is a likable individual, and certainly one of the Browns’ most quotable players.
After catching 61 passes last season — and dropping 14 others — Little had hoped to improve on the first total and make bigger plays. He had just two touchdowns and averaged 11.6 yards per grab. Through the first five weeks of this season, however, Little had 11 receptions and six drops and twice finished games without a catch.
“I was trying to do so much more than just being myself on the field; just trying to create much more than the play is designed for,” said Little, who admits he was guilty of trying to run with the ball before making the catch. “Now, [it’s] just take what’s there and just going with it.”
The emergence of Gordon as a deep-play threat and potential No. 1 receiver also is a factor. Little has four fewer catches than at this time a season ago, but what’s more telling is the number of times he’s been targeted (48) — down from 68 a year ago.