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Extra attention is holding back Leonard Little

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  • Extra attention is holding back Leonard Little

    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 pectoral muscle.)

    He made his first Pro Bowl last season. But the real sign of respect has come this season on game day.

    "It's been the first year where they're just constantly chipping me," Little said. "Or if I do get in a one-on-one situation, they'll throw the ball quick.

    "This has been the first year they've really, really been doing it on a consistent basis. Last year, they'd do it off and on, here and there. But not like they're doing it this year."

    By chip block, Little means a team will leave a running back, fullback or tight end on his side to help the offensive tackle block him. Often, the back or tight end, will bump - or chip block - Little, and then head out on a pass route.

    Little is still making his presence felt. He has 79 tackles in 13 games this season, according to coaches' review of game film (the NFL has Little at 39). That's one more than he had in 12 games last season - missing those four games with the pectoral injury.

    He had 34 pressures and quarterback hits last season. This season he has 40: 24 hits, where he has actually struck the QB, and 16 pressures, where he hurried but didn't hit the QB. So Little is getting in the backfield as often as ever.

    But he has a modest six sacks this season, which probably won't be enough to get him back to the Pro Bowl. Fewer sacks have led to fewer forced fumbles. Little had six forced fumbles last season; he has one this season.

    "We've tried different stuff," Kollar said. "We've moved him around some, to try freeing him up. He's playing hard. He's doing everything, really, that he has over the last three years."

    But the sacks aren't coming. The Rams haven't had many leads this season, particularly the bigger leads that force teams into predictable passing situations. The team has had trouble developing secondary pass rushers to draw attention from Little. End Bryce Fisher (5 1/2) and tackle Damione Lewis (4) are the only Rams with more than three sacks this season.

    Kollar doesn't think the free-agent departure of Grant Wistrom has necessarily hurt Little's production.

    "Grant played his (butt) off every game," Kollar said. "But I don't think the protections have really changed that much because Grant's not over on the other side. I think it's more that people just realize that this guy's a force."

    A force that must be dealt with, one way or the other.

    "This is the way it's going to be, I think, for a while," Little said.

    Leonard Little's stats

    Games: 12
    Tackles: 47 (41 solo)
    Sacks: 12.5
    Fumbles forced: 6

    Games: 13
    Tackles: 39 (31 solo)
    Sacks: 6
    Fumbles forced: 1

  • #2
    Re: Extra attention is holding back Leonard Little

    By chip block, Little means a team will leave a running back, fullback or tight end on his side to help the offensive tackle block him. Often, the back or tight end, will bump - or chip block - Little, and then head out on a pass route.
    Man, I think I would love to see him come off the block and LEVEL the next punk that tries to chip block him. Knock him all the way back intot the QB...

    Might be your last season Big Man... Time to make something of it...
    This space for rent...


    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
    • 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
    • Aquitted Killer
      A Little change for Leonard
      by Aquitted Killer
      An artical I read regarding a potential flip on the D Line.

      I saw it as just a note toward the end of a Len Pasquarelli article on, but it stuck with me for some reason. “Coordinator Jim Haslett and line coach Brian Baker are tinkering with the notion of flipping the two ends, with Leonard Little moving to the right side and Tony Hargrove switching to the left.” It might not seem like a big deal to some; after all, it’s not like they’re moving to new positions, right? A switch could be particularly significant for Little, though.

      Little took a bit to get going in the NFL. He totaled just 5.5 sacks through his first three seasons (five of which came in the third season), while playing in only 26 games overall. The next year (2001), though, Little broke through with 14.5 sacks in a mere 13 games for the Super Bowl runner-up Rams. The season after that he notched 12 more sacks and forced nine fumbles over a full season. The next brought more tremendous production, as Little racked up 12.5 sacks in 12 games and forced six more fumbles.

      That year, however, was the last in which Little consistently got to the quarterback. The past two seasons -- during which the Rams have been subpar overall, by the way -- saw him total just 16.5 sacks, despite appearing in more games (30) than during any other two-year stretch of his career.

      So? Maybe he’s washed up, you might think. After all, he has played eight years now, on turf, no less. Maybe it’s just a byproduct of a career played mostly on turf. Maybe he’s showing the wear of playing season after season as a relatively undersized end. All those things could be factors, or even just outright true, but it may also be the case that a little change could do Leonard some good in 2006.

      The reason given for the coaches mulling the move is that getting Little on the right side would allow him to work in space more. In his current position on the left, Little regularly has to fight through the strong side of the offensive formation, meaning he often gets chipped by a tight end or works against a right tackle who might get a little help from the fullback. Besides the fact that even the slightest extra bump could knock him off stride, the mere step or two that navigating past additional blockers can take might be the difference between sacking Kurt Warner or waving hello after a touchdown pass has been thrown.

      From the right end spot, Little would be likely to go up against lone-working left tackles, which should help maximize the speed advantage that has made Little a successful defensive end at about 260 pounds. Of course, in facing left tackles, Little would also be facing most teams’ top linemen, but the one-on-one scenario would still improve his fantasy prospects. In any given game, he only really has to beat the tackle on one passing play. Do that an average of one time per game, and suddenly he’s leading the
      -07-03-2006, 02:50 PM
    • RamWraith
      Big toe causes big problems for Little
      by RamWraith
      By Jim Thomas
      Thursday, Nov. 01 2007

      In the Year of the Injury for the St. Louis Rams, it figures.

      Defensive end Leonard Little finally got his first sack of the season, forcing
      a fumble in the process against Baltimore on Oct. 14. But he aggravated a
      nagging toe injury on the play, to the point where he needs surgery and may not
      be able to finish the season.

      "I came around on the sack, and it got caught on the turf," Little recalled. "I
      felt it give way a little bit."

      Little didn't think much of it at the time. But as he watched from the sideline
      with the Rams' offense on the field, the toe kept throbbing. Turns out Little
      suffered a torn ligament in the big toe on his left foot.

      Surgery is needed, but Little wants to play through the pain and postpone the
      operation until after the season. Whether that's realistic remains to be seen.
      Even before the rest of the squad had been dismissed for the bye week, Little
      was in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, visiting Dr. Robert Anderson, one of the
      nation's top foot specialists.

      "I already know I'm going to (need) surgery, but I want to know if it can get
      well enough where I can be effective on it, and play on it," Little said,
      before leaving for Charlotte.

      For a speed rusher such as Little, the first couple of steps off the line of
      scrimmage are critical. But it's hard to do much if your big toe is swollen.

      "That's where I make my living, with my legs — how I get off the ball," Little
      said. "If you have an injury of that sort, you can't really be effective."

      The toe had been bothering him for much of the season. But until Baltimore,
      Little had been able to manage the injury. He got the toe taped before games
      and took anti-inflammatory pills to keep the swelling down.

      "But that (Baltimore) game, I guess it couldn't take any more," Little said.

      The sack against the Ravens ended the second-longest sackless streak of
      Little's 10-year NFL career: five games. (He went six games without a sack in
      2005, and six without a sack in 1999, when he was mainly a special teams

      The toe injury undoubtedly slowed him down even before Baltimore, but Little
      had been coming on lately. By unofficial count, he had 5 1/2 quarterback hits
      against Arizona, and four against Baltimore.

      "I was kind of warming up," Little said. "I was really starting to feel like I
      was doing things right, rushing pretty good, and playing pretty good."

      After aggravating the injury in Baltimore, Little tried to play the following
      week in Seattle but wasn't effective....
      -11-01-2007, 05:36 AM
    • 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