Little is prepared to make big impact
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Thursday, Jul. 31 2008
MEQUON, WIS. — As injuries have mounted all around him during the first week of
training camp, Leonard Little's surgically repaired toe hasn't flinched.
Through nine practices over six days — with most of the work done on
unforgiving artificial turf — Little says he has yet to need treatment on the
toe. He feels a little soreness now and then, but that hasn't prevented him
from going about his business from practice to practice at Concordia University
Wisconsin as he prepares for his 11th NFL season.
"I think Leonard looks just like he did two years ago," defensive coordinator
Jim Haslett said. "I'm excited about it, because Leonard two years ago had 12½
sacks, and we really never had a presence on the other side.
"So now you add Chris (Long) to it and James (Hall) and get Victor (Adeyanju)
back, and I think Leonard's going to have a great year."
Little, who actually had 13 sacks two years ago, is planning on nothing less.
Over a six-year period from 2001 to 2006, Little was one of the game's most
feared pass-rushers, averaging 11 1/2 sacks per season. Then came the toe
injury last season, robbing him of his quick get-off, and limiting him to only
one sack before landing on the injured reserve list at midseason.
At age 33, it looked like the injury might be career-threatening, but Little
never viewed it that way.
"I didn't ever think it was going to be an issue," Little said. "But everyone
else did. I just had to rehab it, and do the things I needed to do to get back
to 100 percent. I think it's real close to that right now."
Little says his body always has responded well to surgery. In college at
Tennessee, he recovered impressively from ACL and MCL surgery in his knee. As
painful as the toe injury was last season, Little said he was confident surgery
would make it right.
"It's just a toe," he said. "It stopped me from being the explosive player that
I normally was. But I know how my body reacts to stuff like this. I knew if I
got it fixed, my body would react in a positive way."
As early as the spring organized team activities in May and early June, Little
said he felt he had his old quickness back. And that was even when the Rams'
training staff was bringing him along slowly.
So far in training camp, his practice reps have been limited to some extent,
but he's still getting a lot of work.
"I know what it takes to be successful," Little said. "Hopefully, I can stay
injury-free and play like I did (before) or better."
As he has progressed in the league, Little has built up a solid foundation of
fundamentals. He's a smarter player than he was six or seven years ago.
"You learn a lot more," he said. "You look at offenses differently. You can
read formations. You can tell what they're trying to do as far as run-blocking.
... That's what you do as an older player."
In short, you add savvy to compensate for diminishing skill. This was on
display earlier in the week, when Little sniffed out a short pass by
quarterback Marc Bulger and popped across the line of scrimmage for an
"The way they blocked it, I knew something was going on," Little said. "I don't
think a younger player would've done it like that. But like I said, as you get
older in the league, you recognize a whole lot of things."
Little's play that day energized the defense, which to a large degree has
gotten the best of the offense in the early going of camp. A play or two later,
safety Corey Chavous leveled running back Antonio Pittman with perhaps the
hardest hit of camp to date.
Little's interception would've been a touchdown in a real game. If the Rams can
get a few plays like that from a healthy Little in the regular season, good
things could be in store for the St. Louis defense.
The defensive line has been one of the bright spots of camp. Long has had his
ups and downs, but Hall has been impressive as was Adeyanju before suffering a
fractured finger that could sideline him for a month.
As for Little, he has gone from being a potential cap casualty in late February
to now entertaining thoughts about playing beyond the final two years of his
Rams contract. All because of a toe — and its apparent return to good health.
Re: Little is prepared to make big impact
This is great news on Leonard Little. His success effects everyone else on the defense in a positive way. Nice to have the big boy back.