2-1-02, 10: 25 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
NEW ORLEANS _ Leonard Little leads the St. Louis Rams in sacks and first-year defensive line coach Bill Kollar's hit list.
"He gets on me the most," said Little, the end who rung up 14.5 of his 20 career sacks this season. "Because I have a tendency to make plays when I'm hustling to the ball. He won't let you play if you don't hustle to the ball."
Little admitted this week while preparing for the Super Bowl that wasn't always the case during his previous three seasons in the NFL. If end Kevin Carter got himself traded from the best team in football because head coach Mike Martz couldn't find the switch for his motor, then Little got in trouble for flipping the switch on and off. Until Kollar threatened to turn out the lights.
"If you run a 4.8 or 5.2 (seconds)," said Kollar of 40-yard dash times, "you'll still make plays because you're going all out. If you run a 4.6 but play only half the time, we don't want your butt. Go some place else and play. We rotate everybody. We play all eight guys so nobody can say they're tired."
Sound familiar? It turns out that Kollar, the Bengals' first-round draft pick in 1974, is related to current Cincinnati line coach Tim Krumrie by more than just stripes. Although Krumrie arrived in Cincinnati six years after Kollar left, they have bonded on the NFL assistant coach's off-season circuit of the college combine, college all-star games and scouting trips.
Krumrie and Kollar can often be found together talking about how they covet kids who just flat out spew their guts on the field every snap and how they could
do without first-round pretty weight room wonders that play one down out of every three.
For Krumrie, that is veteran tackles Oliver Gibson and Tony Williams and rookie end Justin Smith. For Kollar, that is rookie Ohio State tackle Ryan Pickett, who cranks it every play, as does veteran end Grant Wistrom.
How about the Rams letting Kollar take high-octane tackles Pickett and Damione Lewis with two of the team's three first-round picks in Kollar's first draft with the team? But he lost Lewis, the 12th pick in the draft, to injured reserve before the season.
"I know how much Krumrie liked Justin Smith and how he really wanted him," Kollar said of his fellow first-round pick. "He played well. All those guys did. They had a good year."
But nobody had a year quite like Kollar's guys. The Rams finished third in the league against the run. They had the best sack tandem in the league that doesn't include Michael Strahan in Little and Wistrom. They solidified Kollar's rep as one of the league's top line coaches.
And the front four carried the Rams in pass rush because St. Louis rarely blitzes. The line has all but 9.5 of the team's 47 sacks.
Everybody first began to appreciate Kollar four years ago when he helped bring an upstart Falcons team that tied an NFL record.by allowing just six rushing touchdowns into the Super Bowl.
But that was a different type of crew.
"We've got a couple of fast guy on the edge in Little and Wistrom and all we had for speed on the outside was Chuck Smith in Atlanta," Kollar said. "We're quite a bit younger here in the middle. Grant is really not a speed rusher in the true sense. He's an athlete and he plays his butt off."
Kollar injured his foot in his third season with the Bengals and was traded to Tampa Bay, where he played six more years and was on the Buccaneers team that lost to the Rams when they were in Los Angeles in the 1979 NFL title game.
Kollar used Tampa Bay line coach Abe Gibron for a model. He liked the way Gibron demanded 100 percent on every play and the fact that he hounded future Hall-of-Famer Lee Roy Selmon like he did Kollar.
"Everybody was the same," Kollar said. "If you didn't hustle to the ball, you didn't play."
Little, this team's star, doesn't quite know what to make of Kollar. Mention Kollar, and Little giggles, shakes his head, laughs, shrugs.
"He teaches us technique and he may say it in a different way," Little said. "But he means well. When you get used to him, he's fine."
But Little does appreciate Kollar for jump starting his motor, not to mention his career.
"With him, he tells you the truth," Little said. "What he tells you happens on the field. If you don't hustle to the ball every play, you won't play. I started making a lot of plays and once you see that it pays off, you know you can make plays. I really believe that."
Kollar believes he's a perfect fit for new coordinator Lovie Smith's video games defense.
"I don't like big low guys," Kollar said, "who don't hustle to the ball. We can do without them."
In another month, Krumrie and Kollar will be out there again looking for the guys they can't live without."