Little nears end of disappointing season

Friday, December 16, 2005

The former Pro Bowl defensive end has battled a death in the family, injuries and more.

ST. LOUIS -- This has pretty much been a lost season for Leonard Little, the St. Louis Rams' best pass rusher.

Little missed two games mourning the death of his younger brother, and he's playing with an injured left ankle that will require offseason surgery to remove bone chips.

This after spending time earlier in the year successfully battling a felony drunk driving charge.

He has only four sacks, and none in the last five games since returning to the lineup in mid-November following the shooting death of Jermaine Little.

"I'm kind of disappointed," Little said Thursday. "It's been an up and down year for me with the things that have happened.

"The only thing I can do is go out there and try and give my all every play and try to help this team win games."

Little posted double-figure sack totals three of the previous four seasons and has 55 1/2 in the last six years. He doesn't believe the ankle injury or a swollen left knee that has hindered him lately have affected his explosiveness.

But the numbers seem to indicate otherwise.

"I have to get it worked on in the offseason, so that's the way it's going to be," Little said. "I can feel it, but I can't let stuff get to me when we're trying to win games.

"So I block it out and go out and play the best I can."

Constant double-teaming also has held him down. The unheralded combination at right end, Anthony Hargrove and Brandon Green, has totaled five sacks -- not enough pressure to take opponents' attention off Little.

In any case, interim coach Joe Vitt believes the last two games have been Little's best of the year.

"They're sliding protections to him, they're accounting for him," Vitt said. "We had some good quarterback pressures last week by bringing heat up the middle, so hopefully people will pack the middle and he'll get the edge."

Little takes his poor numbers and the Rams' poor record as a bad combination. The Rams (5-8) were expected to compete for a playoff spot, but instead are out of the playoffs for only the second time in seven years with three meaningless games to go.

"I've seen a lot of teams and this was the most talented team we'd had in a long time, so I thought our record would be a whole lot better than what it is," Little said. "It didn't turn out that way, we didn't have any breaks go our way, and the only thing we can do is try to finish off in the right fashion."

He's not yet to the point where he'll be glad when the season is over.

"I love this game, and I can't let whatever happened affect me on the field, because they pay me to play this game," Little said. "That's my job. I've got to try to block all that stuff out.

"In the offseason, I may think about it a little bit more but right now the only thing my focus is on is playing football."

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