Rams' defense returns to full force

Saturday, December 22, 2001

ST. LOUIS -- The gang's all back for the St. Louis Rams' defense, which didn't exactly suffer during a rash of injuries.

The Rams are ranked second in the NFL despite losing end Leonard Little, their best pass rusher, for three weeks with a torn knee ligament. The secondary has been beat up for a while, with cornerback Dexter McCleon making an emergency move to strong safety for two games, and linebacker Don Davis missed a month with a dislocated wrist.

Well, that's all over now.

Little returned two games ahead of schedule and had a sack in Monday night's victory at New Orleans. Adam Archuleta, who promises not to lead with his head so much after two concussions, will be back for Sunday's game at Carolina. And McCleon is back at cornerback, where he belongs.

"We're about as healthy as we've been in a long time," defensive coordinator Lovie Smith said. "This week, guys will all be at their natural positions, so it should really help us a lot."

While the Rams (11-2) were hurting, they kept putting the hurt on the opposition. Three weeks ago, the Falcons were held to six points, and two weeks ago the 49ers were held to 14 points and a season-worst 220 yards.

On Monday night, end Grant Wistrom had 3 1-2 sacks and an interception in a 34-21 victory over the Saints that clinched the franchise's third straight playoff berth.

"A lot of times, people whine when you get an injury, and our guys are the complete opposite," Smith said. "Somebody's down, they're ready to step up.

"So many things happen during the course of a year, you really have to just plan on that happening and not let it be a big deal once it does."

Little played about 30 snaps, a normal workload for him, but about 10 more than the Rams had projected. It was as if he had never been hurt.

"It seemed like I was out there a lot," Little said. "They said they were going to limit my playing time, but the first series of the game I was in there, and I think it was like that the whole game."

Coach Mike Martz said Little, who has 10 sacks, wore down a little bit. He's expecting even better now that Little has a game under his belt.

"He was a little gassed at the end, he's a little out of playing shape," Martz said. "It's different to work out in that pool or on that treadmill as opposed to playing a game, but he didn't show any ill effects."

Little expects better, too.

"I was a little bit rusty, I'll tell you that," he said. "I hadn't played in a whole month, so I had to get in the flow of the game a little bit."

The Rams are confident Archuleta, who resumed practicing last week, will be fine. He was held out of the Saints game as a precaution.

"That's why we kept him out, so I wouldn't have concerns," Martz said. "If we had concerns we'd absolutely not play him."

Aeneas Williams' thigh bruise kept him out of practice on Thursday, but he was listed as probable.

Davis played only on special teams two weeks ago against the 49ers in his first game back, but played linebacker the entire second quarter against the Saints.

"I would anticipate playing a litlte more," Davis said. "They said they're going to work me in and I'm going to take whatever they give me."

One player who likely won't be back is backup safety Rich Coady, who started three games at strong safety after Archuleta, who also missed time with a sprained ankle, was hurt. Coady dressed but did not play against the Saints due to a sprained ankle, and is making slow progress.

Like the other injured players, Martz said he'll be patient with Coady. Plus, the need for him to dress isn't crucial anymore.

"We'll let that ankle get a little bit better, which has been our policy in the past," Martz said. "I think the right thing to do is to see if we can't get him a week off."

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