Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Little: 'I can still do it'

By Bill Coats

Sunday, Mar. 30 2008 After being restructured and reconstructed, Leonard Little is eager to get back on the field and resume his career with the Rams.In an effort to create badly needed salary cap room, while also keeping Little around for an 11th NFL season, the Rams worked out a new salary structure with the former Pro Bowl defensive end. Little didn't forfeit any money; the impact of a $7.17 million bonus he was due was spread over two seasons instead of one, providing immediate cap relief.

Before the deal was struck in late February, Little, 33, wondered whether the club might simply release him because of his hefty contract, especially after coming off a major toe injury."I thought about it. I'd spent 10 years here, and it would've been good to end my career here," Little said. "But it's a business before anything else, and I kind of figured that if they were going to (redo the contract), they were going to do it. If not, then I was going to move on somewhere else. I was prepared either way it went."Little amassed 13 sacks in 2006, the second-highest total of his career. But he'd netted just one in seven games when he was placed on injured reserve Nov. 7.

Damage to his left big toe robbed Little of much of the speed and explosiveness that define his game, and left him constantly frustrated. Dr. Robert Anderson repaired torn ligaments on both sides of the toe during reconstructive surgery Nov. 12 in Charlotte, N.C. Little is ahead of schedule in his rehab, although he's restricted during the offseason conditioning program that began Tuesday at Rams Park."I've been running on it. ... It's coming along pretty good," Little said. "We're really trying to take a slow approach; there's no use rushing right now because we're still in the offseason. We're taking it day by day."Little said he's confident that he'll suffer no lingering effects from an injury that potentially could have imperiled his career. "

After the surgery and a couple of weeks when the swelling went down, it felt a whole lot better than it did before," Little said. "I'm not really concerned with hurting it again or anything like that."And, he added, he's also confident that he can return to the form with which he averaged nearly 10 sacks over the previous six seasons. That's important for the Rams, who collected just 31 sacks last year; only nine teams had fewer.

The Rams have been taking hard looks at defensive ends — most notably Virginia's Chris Long and Ohio State's Vernon Gholston — in preparing for the draft April 26 and 27. Defensive ends remaining on the roster are James Hall, Victor Adeyanju, C.J. Ah You and Eric Moore.A healthy Little obviously provides the team with additional options as it begins to rebuild after last year's 3-13 tumble. "I know I can still do it," Little said, "and obviously the team knows I can still do it. ... It's going to be a better deal than it was."

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