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Little Carries Legacy

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  • Little Carries Legacy

    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.”

    Despite what some outside observers might think, the job of the front four in the Rams’ new defense requires much more than pinning your ears back and chasing the quarterback.

    “It’s not like that,” Little said. “It’s a lot of thinking involved with this defense because it requires the defensive ends to do a lot of things. We’re dropping in coverage. Like I said, we’re taking philosophies from three different teams, so we have to learn a lot of different stuff. So that’s what we’re trying to do is just get honed in and hopefully in training camp everything goes smooth.”

    One way for things to go smooth for Little is the opportunity to play at full speed for a full season, something he hasn’t been able to do in either of the past two seasons.

    In 2006, Little posted arguably his best season, finishing with 70 tackles, 13 sacks and six forced fumbles.

    A toe injury limited him to seven games the following season and he was forced to have surgery on it soon after he went on injured reserve on Nov. 7 of that year.

    Last year, Little appeared to come back healthy before suffering a hamstring injury in the season opener against Philadelphia. He missed the next two games but came back as the pass rushing force he was expected to be with two sacks against Buffalo on Sept. 28.

    Little added a sack the following week against Washington and another sack and a half against Dallas the week after.

    The injury bug bit again against New England when he aggravated the hamstring injury and left the game in the second quarter.

    Although Little played out the season, he did it in serious pain and wasn’t as effective the rest of the way and finished with six sacks.

    Since the end of the season, Little has done all he can to get back to health. At both minicamps, Little was able to participate in the majority of the work and reported no pain from the hamstring.

    “It’s getting better,” Little said. “I’ve been doing a lot of rehab on it. I’ve been doing everything with the team, so it’s getting a whole lot better. Hopefully, by the time I go to training camp and the next minicamp I’ll be able to go full speed. I’m going full speed, but I haven’t really turned it all the way up. But I’m doing what I need to do.”

    Soon after the season ended, Little was advised to let the injury rest for about eight weeks. So Little didn’t do much of anything for about two months and only started running again in March.

    Back at close to full speed, Little is embracing the changes and enjoying having a defensive head coach for the first time in his career.

    “Knowing that we have a defensive head coach, to me, this is my first defensive head coach, so in knowing his background and his history it really makes guys want to go out and learn and do what we have to do to make this defense good because he has a history to uphold,” Little said. “A lot of guys have to learn different things and I think guys are really into it and trying to learn what they have to do.”

    As the Rams prepare for the summer and training camp, Little is doing his best to adjust to life without some of his released friends and teammates.

    And though the likes of Holt, Pace and Isaac Bruce won’t be around to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their success together, Little wants it to be known that it was an honor for him to play with them for as long as he did.

    “Man, I mean it’s really weird,” Little said. “I’ve been with those guys like 99 percent of my career; from day one of my career. It’s weird to see those guys go, but it’s the nature of the league. You know things like that are going to happen, so you just have to take it in stride and try to move on from it. But it was nice playing with those guys because all three of those guys are Hall of Famers. I can always tell my kids that I played with some of Hall of Famers.”

  • #2
    Re: Little Carries Legacy

    With the way players have been traded/released this off season under the new regime Little better get back to full speed and quick.

    Little is the all-time sack leader of our RAMS with 81. I would still take Deacon Jones and Jack Youngblood over Little.
    sigpic :ram::helmet:


    • #3
      Re: Little Carries Legacy

      Originally posted by laram0 View Post
      With the way players have been traded/released this off season under the new regime Little better get back to full speed and quick.

      Little is the all-time sack leader of our RAMS with 81. I would still take Deacon Jones and Jack Youngblood over Little.
      1)Little will be fine methinks because unlike Pace,Holt & Pisa... LL is relatively cheap and arguably more needed..since we signed Spags i have thought about the comparison between what Strahan was to Spags and that little will fill that role.. i can see Little being that leader of a young line in the same way...only i believe Little is a lot cheaper.
      his job is safe for this season atleast. i think so anyway...

      2)thats a bit of an empty title to me aswell!
      theres those two that youve mentioned ..but im sure theres something like 6 players in our history who have had more Sacks than Little..tho they were "un-official" of course...and Little hasn`t lined up against opposition LT`s who are usually the best pass protectors...not trying to belittle what he has done here..he`s been a player who has had many great games for us..just that like you said he is not the best sackmaster weve have in our entire history as im sure many would agree.


      • #4
        Re: Little Carries Legacy

        Originally posted by laram0 View Post
        With the way players have been traded/released this off season under the new regime Little better get back to full speed and quick.
        Little is a free agent after this season. He'll be gone at the end of the year.

        There was zero chance of the Rams cutting him because you would gain virtually nothing since his contract is up at the end of the year. Cutting Bennett didn't save the Rams anything in 2009 but it will produce savings in 2010 and beyond. The Rams are going to have monster holes and massive cap space at the end of this season.


        • #5
          Re: Little Carries Legacy

          I always thought little was one of our more solid defenders. Sure Jack and Deacon were awesome but that was the past, little is what we have now and i think thats why no one really wrote any threads to get rid of him. Because hes a very good pass rusher when healthy.


          • #6
            Re: Little Carries Legacy

            I almost didn't click this link as I thought it was going to turn out to be another DUI bashing thread. While what happened was serious and will be part of his legacy for the rest of his life, it's nice to see an "on-the-field" discussion on Little.

            I agree, I think this will be his last year as a Ram, unless he wants to come back for a league minimum one or two year contract. I hope whatever happens he retires as a Ram.
            This space for rent...


            • #7
              Re: Little Carries Legacy

              I think a healthy Little is still a very viable threat on defense, but it just looks like his body is going to continue to let him down. At 34, it's inevitable for most players. Hope I'm wrong.


              • #8
                Re: Little Carries Legacy

                When he's at his best he is a stud. As said, his body is wearing down on him, but hopefully a new coaching staff will help him get re-energized.


                Related Topics


                • RamWraith
                  Little Embracing Leadership Role
                  by RamWraith
                  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...
                  -11-22-2006, 01:48 PM
                • 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.

                  THE ORIGINAL ‘TWEENER

                  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
                • RamWraith
                  Little Working to Return
                  by RamWraith
                  Thursday, March 27, 2008

                  By Nick Wagoner
                  Senior Writer

                  After finding himself in a precarious position that could have ended his tenure with the only NFL team he’s ever known, defensive end Leonard Little arrived in St. Louis this week for the team’s offseason conditioning program with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

                  When you’re one of the team’s highest paid defenders and a veritable one man pass rush, a single sack in seven games and a season ending toe injury isn’t exactly the type of return anyone is looking for.

                  While Little understands that, he also recognizes that he isn’t that far removed from being one of the best edge rushers in the NFL.

                  “People don’t remember that the year before that when I had like 13.5 (sacks),” Little said. “I know I can still do it, and obviously the team knows I can still do it. It’s just a matter of me going out and doing it. Last year, I missed a lot of opportunities for sacks and stuff like that. I don’t like to dwell on last year because it’s passed, but I missed a lot of opportunities. This year, I just have to capitalize on opportunities and hopefully come out a little better.”

                  The opportunity to improve on a disappointing 2007 in which he was regularly getting close to quarterbacks but not finishing the job almost came in a different NFL city.

                  On Feb. 27, just before the start of the free agency period, the Rams and Little worked to re-structure the multi-million dollar contract he signed near the end of the 2006 season. Little was due a $7.17 million roster bonus and would have had the largest cap number on the team heading into 2008.

                  That number would have severely affected the team’s ability to make any kind of a splash in free agency. That left both sides with two options: re-structure or part ways.

                  Little prepared himself for either scenario.

                  “It’s a business before anything else,” Little said. “I kind of figured if they were going to do it, they were going to do it. If not, then I was going to move on and hopefully go somewhere else. I wasn’t really concerned about it. If it happened, it happened. If it didn’t, it didn’t. I was prepared either way. That’s the way I took it.”

                  For a player who has been with the Rams for the entirety of his 10-year career, the thought of not being in St. Louis wasn’t the most appealing option.

                  “It was pretty simple,” Little said. “I thought about it like I was here 10 years of my career, and it would be good to end my career here, but if I had to go to another team, I would be willing to do that.”

                  Ultimately, Little and the Rams struck a deal that would keep him in St. Louis and save the team upwards of $3.5 million in salary cap space, money the team would spend in the hours after the re-structure.

                  With that important piece of business out of the way, Little...
                  -03-27-2008, 03:45 PM
                • RamWraith
                  Little is prepared to make big impact
                  by RamWraith
                  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...
                  -07-31-2008, 04:08 AM
                • MauiRam
                  Workout Warrior ...
                  by MauiRam
                  By Jim Thomas
                  ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

                  Leonard Little didn't stop working once the Rams' official offseason program ended in mid June. Day after day back home in Charlotte, N.C., Little headed to a nearby park, strapped on a 17-pound vest and ran hills.

                  "I think it's the hardest I've worked out in the offseason before training camp," said Little, now 34.

                  Was the Rams defensive end trying to brace himself for what figured to be a tough camp under new coach Steve Spagnuolo? "It wasn't that," Little said. "I felt like I needed to do it. I wanted to stay on top of my body this year; hopefully keep my body healthy and try to carry it on through the year."

                  There is an upper field and a lower field at that park in Charlotte, with a hill blocking vision between the two. On one of Little's last days at the park before heading back to St. Louis for camp, he climbed into his car after a run and saw a living, breathing flashback.

                  "I see some bald-headed guy walking toward me," Little said. "It was London Fletcher. He actually moved to Charlotte. He was out there running too, on that other field at the same park."

                  Little went over to Fletcher's house and renewed acquaintances with an old friend, and an old teammate. Fletcher was the feisty starting middle linebacker on the Rams' Super Bowl championship team for the 1999 season.

                  These days, chance meetings are one of the only ways Little will spend time with Super Bowl XXXIV teammates. Because 10 years after that amazing run to collect the Lombardi Trophy, Little is the sole remaining member of that squad — St. Louis' only world championship team in professional football.

                  That became the case this past offseason, when offensive tackle Orlando Pace, wide receiver Torry Holt and quarterback Trent Green — all part of the '99 team — were released. One by one, those players have gone by the wayside in recent years. Isaac Bruce went to San Francisco ... Marshall Faulk retired ... Jeff Wilkins retired ... On and on.

                  And now there is only Little from the team that toppled Tennessee 23-16 in one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever played.

                  "Those times are over," Little said. "We've got a different coach; we've got a different mentality of how we're going to approach the games. Steven (Jackson)'s going to be a big cornerstone of our offense running the ball — he and the backup running backs. We're going to play good defense."

                  With a defensive-oriented head coach in Spagnuolo, the Rams' formula for victory figures to be much different than those pass-happy days at the turn of the millennium.

                  Little managed to survive the offseason purge in which many veterans were sent away from Rams Park. Besides Holt, Pace and Green, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa and...
                  -08-03-2009, 08:19 AM