Little hopes to hold onto ball, roster spot

NAPA, Calif. -- Oakland Raiders wide receiver Greg Little was among the more impressive players during Friday's practice. During one-on-one drills, he went up and over cornerback Taiwan Jones to grab a deep pass down the sideline, and another time he beat press coverage to snare the ball on a slant route. The most encouraging thing to the Raiders was not his speed or athleticism. It was much more fundamental. It was him catching the ball cleanly.

For all of his physical gifts -- 6-foo- 2, 220 pounds, 4.5 speed in the 40 -- Little failed to live up to expectations his first three seasons because he struggled to hold onto the ball. According to Pro Football Focus, his 16.33 drop percentage last year with Cleveland was fourth-worst in the league.

But the 2011 second-round pick has impressed Raiders coaches to this point. He rarely put the ball on the ground during organized team activities and was sensational for the start of training camp, despite one drop. He credits the improvement to catching as many as 500 balls a day -- tennis balls, not footballs.

"When I'm watching "SportsCenter" or a movie, my homeboy is throwing tennis balls at me," he said. "It develops that hand-eye coordination like a basketball player has. It was what I needed to focus on, rather than beating myself down running routes, because I'm a guy that likes to work until I can't run anymore. But at this point in my career, I needed to work on my concentration and focus on the little tedious things such as catching tennis balls. This is what I should've been doing the whole time."

If Little has actually figured things out, he'll be a tremendous asset for the Raiders, who need a deep threat who can hurt teams if they drop the safety toward the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Little has the physical skills; he's big, physical and fast, plus he can go up over defensive backs for receptions. "I tell our guys: Let the receiver make the play," he said. "You don't have to make the perfect throw. When you have a big athletic receiver like so many guys that we have on our team, let the guys make the play."

The Raiders are holding their breath that they got a steal in Little, who despite his drops caught 61, 53 and 41 passes in his three seasons with the Browns. "He's really been a real pro," said head coach Dennis Allen. "He's done everything we've asked him to do. I've seen him progress as a football player. I think it remains to be seen what happens; he's got to be able to go out there and do it in the preseason and regular-season games. But I've liked what I've seen out of him to this point."