ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Leonard Little feels he's much more than a third-down pass rusher for the St. Louis Rams.
After Sunday morning's full-pad practice at Rams Park, Little insisted he still can be an every-down defensive end.
"I'll always be an everyday player if I'm healthy," Little said. "I don't know where people get this thing where, you know, that I'm just a third-down player. I've been playing every down since I've been starting."
But with a new coaching staff headed by Steve Spagnuolo, Little knows things have changed. All he has to do is look around.
Little is the only player left from the 1999 and 2001 Super Bowl teams, surviving three coaching changes. The 34-year-old, who was a third-round draft pick in 1998, is heading into his 12th season.
"It's tremendously valuable to have that kind of experience and leadership," Spagnuolo said. "It's an important position on defense."
Little acknowledged it's strange not to have Torry Holt and Orlando Pace -- both released in recent months -- around anymore.
"I miss the guys," Little said. "You know, we won a lot of games together and we went through a lot of stuff together. It's different because you're used to being around those guys for so long. It takes a little time to get used to it but you've got to realize this is the NFL and stuff like that will happen. You have to adjust to it the best way you can and go out here and play regardless of what happens."
Admitting he was nervous it could happen to him, Little said he was prepared for whatever happened.
"You never know what's going to happen next," said Little, who is in the last year of a renegotiated contract he signed in 2006. "I knew I could be next."
He didn't need to worry though. Spagnuolo liked what he saw from Little on tape and wanted to keep him.
"In all the evaluations we did, he was part of the plan," Spagnuolo said. "So far, so good."
The Rams recently signed defensive tackle Hollis Thomas, who turned 35 in January. That move made Little happy.
"I'm not the oldest guy on the team no more so that's good," Little said laughing. "I told him he could be the grandpa around here."
Little had six sacks and two forced fumbles to go along with 18 tackles, but played hurt for the second straight season last year. A hamstring injury slowed him, and he didn't start in the season finale at Atlanta. He also sat out during the minicamps.
He's healed now and ready to go for the upcoming season.
"I'm fine," Little said. "I'll be fine as long as I keep my body in good condition and stay injury free. I'll do anything they want me to do. I think I'm the ultimate team player. If coaches see me as a third-down player, I can play third down. If they see me as an every-down player, I can do that, too. I just want to win games and get back to the playoffs."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)