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Little Embracing Leadership Role

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  • Little Embracing Leadership Role

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    While Leonard Little was leading the Rams’ defense and continuing in his role as the team's top pass rusher last season, it wasn’t easy to see that Little simply wasn’t enjoying himself on the football field as he usually does.

    By his own account, Little wasn’t the same player or person last season as he had been in almost every other year. And it wasn’t even close. At 32, having gone through more in a five-year period than many endure in a lifetime, Little had to learn to handle pain in his foot and, more difficult, his heart.

    “Last year, my brother passed away and that really stuck with me throughout last season and I didn’t know how to come back,” Little said. “This year, I learned to deal with it and I am just going out trying to have fun. For me, I’m 32 years old and I just try to go out there and seize the moment and have fun while I’m out there playing.”

    Not only is Little having fun on the field and seizing the moment, he has done so much that he could finish his career in St. Louis. Little signed a three-year deal with the team this week; a contract he says will likely be his last.

    Last season was a difficult one for Little. Plagued by injuries, including an ankle and heel issue that slowed him, and forced to deal with the death of his brother Jermaine, Little struggled to find the bounce in his step that had made him one of the league’s most feared pass rushers.

    Little missed a pair of games after finding out about the shooting death of his brother before returning to the field with a heavy heart. With the Rams struggling, particularly on defense, Little couldn’t find a way to play with the passion and enthusiasm that had been motivating factors behind his immense success.

    “Last year, it was hard for me to cope with it because he was younger than me and we grew up tight,” Little said. “We were a close knit family. Last year, I was trying to cope with it and now I just deal with it.”

    Despite the extraneous factors working against him, he still led the Rams with 9.5 sacks. But, after a hot start, Little hit a lull in the middle of the season and didn’t hit his stride again until the end. His sack total was the second-lowest of his career since a huge 2001 when he had a career-high 14.5 sacks despite missing three games.

    In the offseason, Little’s surroundings changed once again. St. Louis hired a new coaching staff and brought in plenty of new pieces to surround the star defensive end. All of that, though was assuming Little could be a centerpiece.

    Little had ankle surgery that shaved away some bone chips in the offseason and went through a strenuous rehabilitation and recovery period that had him hobbled as recently as training camp.

    In addition, the Rams brought in defensive tackle La’Roi Glover and middle linebacker Will Witherspoon, players that could help free up Little on the outside to get to the quarterback. Less double teams equal more one on one opportunities, the type of chances Little takes advantage of more often than not.

    Beyond the physical issues, the most pressing thing on Little’s mind was finding a way to cope with the loss of his brother. Instead of grieving, Little decided to use football as a way to honor Jermaine.

    “I think about him all the time,” Little said. “Every time I get out on the field, I think about him. Every time I am out there playing, I think about him. But I know how to cope with it now. Last year, I didn’t know how to cope with it. I think that’s the biggest difference between this year and last year.”

    The difference in Little is easily evident. Not that Little was never affable with the media or never provided leadership to his teammates, but he has become one of the most accountable and important staples of the Rams’ locker room.

    In the days leading up to games and after every game, Little can be seen taking any and all questions, owning up to mistakes and modestly deflecting praise. Meanwhile, he’s embraced his role as one of the leaders of the defense.

    After the team’s loss to Kansas City, the normally reserved Little gave an impassioned speech to his teammates to keep their heads up and continue fighting. It’s a side of Little that might not have been there before and if it was, it certainly wasn’t on display.

    Little doesn’t plan to make a habit of vocalizing his leadership, but he will choose his spots when warranted.

    “I am not a real vocal guy but I try to lead by the way I play,” Little said. “If I have to say something, I will say something to the team but I try to lead with how I play and go out there and try to make plays for this team and hopefully try to help those guys along.”

    Following Little’s lead on the defense has been particularly easy this season. Through 10 games, Little has 10 sacks and has continuously come up with big plays when the defense needs them the most.

    Against Green Bay on Oct. 8, Little had two sacks, including a game-saver in which he knocked the ball loose from quarterback Brett Favre to preserve a Rams win. The extra attention paid to the likes of Glover has helped, but Little has also showed the type of versatility that makes defensive ends great.

    “We can move Leonard around,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “These guys need a little flexibility. Part of it is the scheme because of the guys you have. If you can move people around and take advantage of their athleticism, you can do those types of things.”

    And when the defense needs a big play the most, as it did against the Packers, Haslett turns to No. 91.

    “He's a great pass rusher,” Haslett said. "He can put pressure on almost any tackle in the league. ... He's the one guy up front that can put some pressure on the quarterback constantly.”

    While most players reach a certain age and hit their peak, Little seems to be getting better as he goes along. Now that he is signed up for the long haul, Little hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down.

    Instead, Little only cares about doing what he can do to help the Rams win. It stood to reason that Little doing his job of getting to the quarterback would serve the dual purpose of helping his cause for a new contract and helping the Rams win at the same time.

    Although that hasn’t necessarily been the case, it’s through no fault of Little’s play that the Rams are riding a five-game losing streak.

    “I am playing the same way I have been playing but things have been happening for me a little bit easier this year,” Little said. “After awhile, the game seems to come to you a little bit more. I think this is the first year I really understand the game and what people are trying to do to me and how to play the game basically.”

    As a self described sore loser, Little can’t handle not winning. He says he once cried for an hour or two after losing the championship of a Little League game.

    That’s part of why he has taken it upon himself to bring his expand on his role as a leader of the team.

    “He’s doing a great job of getting off the ball and getting his hands on guys to make things happen for us,” Witherspoon said. “That’s what you want. He’s one of those leaders on this defense and he’s definitely doing a great job showing people what he’s got by coming out to play and getting the job done.”

    And most of all, just having fun again.

  • #2
    Re: Little Embracing Leadership Role

    That's the way Leonard. Keep that fire going and help the youngsters along, it's your turn to step up !!!!!

    Maineram - :r


    • #3
      Re: Little Embracing Leadership Role

      how can he step up more?
      he is tied for second in sacks in the NFL and is only one behind Peppers!

      Second in the NFL for forced fumbles for D-Linemen with 5 to Jason Talor's 7

      i cant see how he can actually do much more then he is. But if he can, watch out Alex smith!


      • #4
        Re: Little Embracing Leadership Role

        Stepping up as in taking a stronger leadership role with the D and team as a whole. He IS the veteran on this team that leads by example, but now needs to be a vocal leader in the locker room and on gameday.

        Maineram -


        • #5
          Re: Little Embracing Leadership Role

          Nice article. Leonard has been through a lot. I am glad to see that he is finding a way to bring the intensity up and the passion back to the defense.

          Maybe Leonard Little will pass Peppers in the sack total soon.


          Related Topics


          • r8rh8rmike
            The Legacy Of Leonard Little
            by r8rh8rmike
            The Legacy of Leonard Little
            Thursday, November 26, 2009

            By Nick Wagoner
            Senior Writer

            Two years into his NFL career, Leonard Little had yet to make much of an impact on the game and found himself wondering when his opportunity would arrive.

            Beyond that, Little was still unsure that even if the chance to prove himself came, that he could actually do it.

            In his college career at Tennessee, Little had regularly dominated. He was one of the most intimidating forces in the college game and had made a habit of collecting sacks like Jay-Z collects No. 1 albums.

            But the NFL was a different world and Little had yet to even show up on the radar.

            So it was that then coach Mike Martz made the decision that the best way for Little to unlock his many skills was to get his behind kicked every day in practice.

            “If you were going to get better, you were going to have to go against someone great,” Little said. “I was going against the best every single day in training camp. He told me if I was going to be an impact player in this league, I have to practice against the best and Orlando Pace was the best.”

            Practice after practice, repetition after repetition, all world left tackle Pace utterly destroyed Little. Every move Little made was turned away, every spin move stonewalled.

            Eventually, Little had a breakthrough. After hundreds, perhaps thousands of opportunities, Little finally began to solve Pace or at least battle him to a draw.

            “He was the best at the time and when I first went against him it was intimidating because he was a great player,” Little said. “He would get the best of me and I’d keep battling and then beat him sometimes. He would beat me. It went back and forth. But I think that was the first time I realized I could play in this league.”

            Twelve years into his career, there’s nobody who can question that Little can indeed play in the NFL as he has become one of the league’s premiere pass rushers and the greatest defensive force in St. Louis Rams history.


            When the Rams used the 65th overall choice, in the third round of the 1998 NFL Draft on Little, they knew they were getting an extremely productive college player.

            For a player with Little’s resume to last until the third round would normally be a bit of a surprise. But for as impressive as his statistics were, the stat that held Little back the most was the fact that he was a 236-pound defensive end/linebacker.
            Before the dawn of the 3-4 defense in which teams can regularly find ways to get pass rush specialists on the field as an outside linebacker, there was Little.

            In fact, Little was one of a number of players first associated with the dreaded “’Tweener” label.

            The Rams decided to roll the dice...
            -11-26-2009, 06:16 PM
          • r8rh8rmike
            Little Carries Legacy
            by r8rh8rmike
            Wednesday, May 13, 2009

            By Nick Wagoner
            Senior Writer

            After 11 seasons in the league, all spent with the Rams, Leonard Little is the last man standing.

            With the offseason departures of Orlando Pace, Torry Holt and Trent Green, Little is the final player on the team’s roster from the 1999 Super Bowl championship team as the 10-year anniversary of that magical season approaches.

            At the team’s second minicamp earlier this month, that reality began to set in for Little.

            “It goes by fast,” Little said. “For me to be sitting here and be the longest tenured Ram, I never thought it was going to happen. But it is here, so I have to try to lead the young guys as much as I can and try to bring them along. Once you’ve been in the league over 10 years you already know basically what the steps are of being successful. I just try to do what I need to do to make this team better and plus try to talk to the young guys and try to help those guys out too.”

            What Little has done to help make the Rams better throughout his career is simply be one of the league’s best pass rushers. In his time in the league, Little has racked up 81 sacks, the most in the history of the franchise since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.

            At 34, Little is the team’s elder statesman but remains its most viable pass rush threat. And though he is the first to admit he doesn’t have the speed rushing from the outside he once did, he believes he still has plenty in the tank as he heads into the final year of his contract.

            “I’m energized every year,” Little said. “What people don’t realize is this is like my eighth year in the league. I didn’t really play my first three years here. I still have the energy I usually have. I just try to go out and get better every day.”

            Having Little at his best would be a tremendous advantage for a revamped Rams defense that is still in the process of coming together.

            With new head coach Steve Spagnuolo and defensive coordinator Ken Flajole in the fold, the Rams are incorporating myriad defensive ideas into the new scheme.

            That scheme is expected to be an aggressive, attacking type of unit that takes bits and pieces from what the Eagles, Giants and Panthers do in getting after the quarterback.

            In Spagnuolo’s defenses, pass rushers are at a premium.

            “It’s exciting for me because this is my first defensive head coach,” Little said. “He has had success in the past and it’s a matter of us knowing what we have to do first and then we can play fast and create turnovers and do the things we need to do. This defense is going to rely on the guys up front to put pressure on the quarterback. That’s going to be the biggest thing about this defense, so it really puts pressure on the front four to be great pass rushers and get to the quarterback.”

            -05-14-2009, 08:29 PM
          • RamWraith
            Little Hope Quick Start Carries Over
            by RamWraith
            Thursday, September 14, 2006

            By Nick Wagoner
            Senior Writer

            When Jim Haslett took over as defensive coordinator for the Rams, he knew there was going to be a drastic makeover of the personnel. But if there was one player he knew he could count on among the holdovers it was defensive end Leonard Little.

            After all, Haslett had tried to find ways to scheme and protect against Little when he was the head coach in New Orleans and knew what Little was capable of. When the preseason began this year, though, Haslett began to wonder where the Little he knew had gone.

            “I thought he was hiding in preseason at times, but he’s one of those guys when it is time to go, he really turns it on,” Haslett said.

            Turn it on he did against the Broncos in the season opener. It didn’t take long at all for Little to make his presence felt. On Denver’s sixth play from scrimmage, Little burst around tackle George Foster and pulled down Jake Plummer for his first sack of the season and a 9-yard loss.

            On Denver’s next possession, Little blew into the back field again, this time rag-dolling running back Tatum Bell and crushing Plummer again. Little jarred the ball loose this time and it was eventually recovered by linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa at Denver’s 3. For the rest of the day, Little wreaked havoc in Denver’s backfield and it wasn’t just limited to the pass rush.

            It was the type of performance Haslett expected from his star defensive end when he came to St. Louis.

            “He was outstanding,” Haslett said. “He did a great job rushing the quarterback and an even better job in the running game.”

            Last season was difficult for Little. Plagued by injuries, including an ankle and heel issue that slowed him, and forced to deal with the death of his brother, Little struggled to find the bounce in his step that has made him one of the league’s most feared pass rushers.

            Despite the extraneous factors working against him, he still led the Rams with 9.5 sacks. But, after a hot start, Little hit a lull in the middle of the season and didn’t hit his stride again until the end.

            Little posted a pair of sacks in last year’s opener against San Francisco and dominated against Dallas in the finale with two and a half sacks, eight tackles and a forced fumble.

            Although Little led the team in sacks, it was a performance below his lofty standards and one that has him motivated to return to the form that made him a Pro Bowler in 2004.

            “I just wanted to come out here and have a great start,” Little said. “Last year, I had nine and a half sacks or whatever and I know I am better than that. I just wanted to have a great start and hopefully it will continue the rest of the year.”

            It seems more likely that Little’s success will continue this year, more so than in the past, if for no other reason...
            -09-14-2006, 01:41 PM
          • RamWraith
            "Little Excited for Future"
            by RamWraith
            Thursday, December 27, 2007

            By Nick Wagoner
            Senior Writer

            When last we saw Leonard Little, he was but a shell of the dominant pass rusher he was only a season ago.

            Dealing with a debilitating toe injury that would require surgery, Little attempted to play through the pain. When the throbbing in his left big toe became too much, Little was forced to have surgery to repair a torn ligament.

            With his season over, the Rams went searching for a way to create a pass rush. They found an answer in linebacker Will Witherspoon, who henceforth had never specialized much in that area.

            Witherspoon now leads the team with seven sacks, including a stretch in which he went five consecutive games with at least one.

            “I guess I will be looking for a job,” Little said, laughing.

            Little was joking about looking for work, but the way the defense has changed since he last played Oct. 21 against Seattle is no laughing matter.

            With Little officially placed on injured reserve and out for the season, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett went searching for new and creative ways to get after the quarterback.

            The solution? Haslett realized that Witherspoon was capable of coming tight around the edges and sacking the quarterback. Many times, the Rams would send Witherspoon off the edge of a three man front or stand linebacker Brandon Chillar at the line of scrimmage as well.

            Combining 3-4 looks with nickel packages and the base 4-3 defense, Haslett has created so much confusion that even legendary quarterback Brett Favre said the defense had “no rhyme or reason.”

            Even someone who has been in St. Louis as long as Little can see that what he will be coming back to is much different than what he left.

            “Basically the whole defense has changed and it’s hard for me to figure out what they are doing sometimes,” Little said. “I know the defense, but he changed it in a way where he is disguising a lot of things and it’s hard for quarterbacks to figure out what we’re doing.”

            The possibility of a permanent switch to more of a 3-4 look has been kicked around on multiple occasions though Haslett remains non-committal to such a move. Should the Rams opt to head that direction, it’s entirely possible that Little would have to stand up as an outside linebacker/edge rusher much like Baltimore uses Terrell Suggs.

            Regardless of which direction the Rams choose to take the defense in 2008, Little says he will be fine as long as it continues to produce positive results.

            “I can adjust,” Little said. “I can adjust to anything. I told him that next year they shouldn’t take away from the game plan they are running now, continue with this and I have got to fit in somehow the best way I can.”

            The first and best way for Little to fit in is to simply return to the fold....
            -12-28-2007, 05:15 AM
          • RamWraith
            Extra attention is holding back Leonard Little
            by RamWraith
            By Jim Thomas
            Of the Post-Dispatch

            In the third quarter against Seattle last month, Leonard Little got offensive tackle Chris Terry on his heels with a bull rush. Little then turned inside toward Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck but never got there.

            That's because Terry grabbed Little with his right arm and held on for dear life. After the play ended, Little raised his arms in protest, but there was no holding call by referee Bill Leavy's crew.

            The following week in Buffalo, Little darted inside on a stunt late in the first quarter. But before Little got in the backfield, Bills guard Chris Villarrial yanked on his facemask to slow him down. Again, no flag.

            Those are just two snapshots illustrating the kind of attention Little is getting from opposing blockers this season. He gets double-teamed or chip-blocked on the majority of passing downs. For a defensive end in the National Football League, it's the ultimate form of flattery.

            "They never leave him alone," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "Very seldom is he left alone on (the edge). If he is, then it's a quick throw. They have great respect for him."

            Not that that's much consolation to Little. All the extra attention has at times been exasperating and disconcerting.

            After the Rams' 31-14 loss in Miami, a frustrated Little was one of the last Rams to leave the visitors' locker room at Pro Player Stadium. The Dolphins had been particularly attentive - and particularly effective - in slowing Little that day.

            While reporters were milling about the locker room in search of postgame quotes, Little was huddled in a corner with teammate Tyoka Jackson.

            "He was looking for answers ... and trying to figure out what he can do to overcome what they're doing," Jackson said. "Because he's seeing things that he hasn't seen before.

            "The (Miami) guys were telling him after the game was over: 'Coach said we've got to do this all game. We've got to take you out of the game. We decided to do this and do that.' So teams are scheming him, and that's something he's got to deal with."

            The extra attention shouldn't be considered surprising, given Little's well-established reputation as a defensive playmaker.

            "Over the last three years, with the numbers he's put up, and the intensity and everything with which he plays, teams feel they've got to slow the guy down," Rams defensive line coach Bill Kollar said. "Without a doubt."

            The real surprise is that it has taken the league three years to figure this out. From 2001 through 2003, Little averaged 13 sacks a season, the third-highest total in the NFL. Over that period, Little had 39 sacks in just 41 games. (He missed three games in 2001 with a knee injury and four games last season with a torn...
            -12-17-2004, 04:23 AM