Originally Published: August 9, 2018 10:32 p.m.
GLENDALE — Arizona wide receiver Greg Little has not caught a pass in the NFL since 2014 but the down time has not prevented him from making a strong impression in training camp this summer.
If that continues, Little could find himself in the hunt for a starting position with a Cardinals team with no clear-cut favorite to pair with Larry Fitzgerald.
Little thinks about that every night.
“Every night before I go to bed, just try to realize and reflect and just kind of meditate a little bit about my journey and where I am and come out each day and try to get better,” Little said. “How long it took and what’s left on the plate for me to still accomplish and still go out and do it. Just try to achieve that each day.”
Wide receiver Brice Butler, a free agent signee from Dallas, is listed No. 1 on the depth chart with Fitzgerald. Among the other competitors are holdovers J.J. Nelson and Chad Williams and second-round draft pick Christian Kirk, who appears to have secured a spot on the roster as the primary punt returner. Fitzgerald and Nelson are the only returnees with as many as 20 receptions in 2017.
The 29-year-old Little has 161 receptions in four NFL seasons, the first three with Cleveland after the Browns took him in the second round in 2011 out of North Carolina. He started 41 of 48 games with the Browns and was targeted more than 90 times each year, topping out at 61 receptions for 709 yards as a rookie. He led the team in catches his first two years.
After being cut by the Browns, he had six catches in six games with Cincinnati in 2014 and has not played in a regular-season game since. He spent time on the Bengals’ practice squad in 2015 and was in Buffalo’s training camp in 2016 before being released.
Little, 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, arrived in Arizona with little fanfare, candidly acknowledging the Cardinals were the only team that showed interest. After opening eyes at a rookie minicamp, he was intriguing enough to be asked back.
“The biggest thing that you see when he is out there, he does a tremendous job of catching the ball in traffic,” Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said. “Big body. Can really create that separation. There are tight windows in this league, so you have to have receivers that can do those kinds of things. That is one of the things that stands out with Greg.”
Cardinals safety Antoine Bethea, who has played 13 seasons, has seen the same thing.
“When he was at UNC, he was a beast,” Bethea said. “He’s definitely doing some good things out there, jumping out on film. Good strong hands. Running good routes. After three years and coming out here and looking really good, I’m excited to see him out there.”
Little’s time in Cleveland was up and down. He was among the league leaders in dropped passes in his three years. He also seemed to clash with head coach Mike Pettine. Little said Pettine did not communicate well, although other players came to Pettine’s defense.
“Just a number of things that kind of led me to this position,” Little said. “I’m here now. I just want to make the best of it. I’m confident in my ability to still play this game.”
A large support group of family and friends helped him make it through the last few seasons, Little said, even if the games themselves were difficult to watch.
“Sometimes I didn’t watch at all,” he said.
Being back on the field “makes you appreciate the privilege it is to be in the NFL. Once you understand that, then all the other noise doesn’t bother you.”
He said he views this as a final opportunity, but mainly because of the potential for injury.
“I’m going to take that approach, being that the nature of this game as physical as it is, you have to,” Little said. “Obviously, it’s a reality for anybody that is playing this game.”
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