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Little moves from sadness to hope
ST. LOUIS - Leonard Little wouldn't think about comparing the current season to the struggles of a year ago.
He's on pace to challenge his career-high in sacks (14.5 in 2001) and tackles (45.0 in 2005) as the Rams head into the second half of the season with a game Sunday at Seattle. The nine-year veteran defensive end recorded his sixth and seventh sacks last week against Kansas City and has 24 total tackles so far this year.
"I think this is the strongest I've been in a very long time," he said. "Probably since I've been here, at this point in the season. It's really helping me out when I'm playing."
It marks a welcomed departure from last season filled with tragedy, injury and a journey through the judicial system. He missed two games following the shooting death of his younger brother, Jermaine, and had an ankle injury that required surgery in the offseason. That came after waging a successful fight against a felony drunk driving charge earlier in the year.
He finished with a career-high 45 tackles. But for the defensive end who prides himself on getting to the quarterback, his 9.5 sacks proved a disappointment. It marked his second lowest total since his breakout year of 2001 when he finished with his career-high mark despite missing three games with a knee injury.
With his health problems, the heavy burden of sorrow and the other hurdles he faced lifted during the offseason, Little said it makes life and work much easier.
"With my brother passing, it's hard for me to get past it," he said. "I think about it a lot, but now I can deal with it better because time heals a lot and it's a big difference between this year and last year."
Three people, including Jermaine's ex-girlfriend, face charges stemming from the shooting that allegedly started after the couple had a dispute about money.
The fresh start came at the same time the new coaching staff brought in philosophies that Little believes contributed to his good first half. The Rams practice in the morning rather than the afternoon as they had been in previous years. That allows players to work harder in the weight room without worrying about tiring out before practice and Little said the new schedule has given him more energy during games.
"Leonard is having a great year," coach Scott Linehan said. "He's probably playing the most consistent up front. He's made some key sacks that put us in position to change momentum of games."
Along with the new practice schedule, the coaching staff decided Little needed new looks at quarterbacks. He finds himself in a different spot on nearly every play rather than anchored at left end. The motion helps keep opposing offenses guessing from where Little will attack and Linehan said his seven sacks proves the move worked.
"He's on pace to get 14 or 15 sacks," Linehan said. "That's a pretty good year, especially for a defensive left end. He's playing very well."
Little certainly has no complaints.
"I don't know what the disadvantages are," he said. "It's all advantages.
Notes: Linehan grew up in Seattle. ...Seattle WR Deion Branch played under Linehan at the University of Louisville.