When training camp opened in San Diego, quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates offered up some candid, but not particularly derogatory or surprising, remarks about former Chargers tailback LaDainian Tomlinson.
Said Rivers regarding L.T.’s departure: “Maybe it was a little bit of a relief. Maybe it’s a feeling
of, ‘I can do a little more without wondering what he thinks.’”
Said Gates: “Sometimes you would get the sense that people felt bigger than the
team. Not to say it was an issue, but we know it’s not an
issue for sure now.”
Tomlinson has responded.
“I thought they were my guys,” the brand-new New York Jet said, per Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. “People always say, and
my family has said it to me, that you know who your real friends are
when you’re at your lowest point and you don’t have a job or whatever. And guys, they said what they felt, whether they were taking shots at me
or really just saying what they felt needed to be said.”
As to Tomlinson’s departure from San Diego itself, he says it was a long time coming.
“I’m not going to say I wasn’t happy, but I started to see my departure
out of San Diego way before you guys did,” Tomlinson said. “I could sense it. I started to
make a little gripe about running the ball more, and people thought I
was crazy. ‘Aw, L.T.’s complaining and whining.’ But that’s when I started
to see what was going on.”
He says it in a way that confirms the observations of Rivers and Gates. After his 2006 MVP season, Tomlinson seemed to believe that he had acquired a lifetime entitlement to a spot on the roster, a position at the top of the depth chart, a contract at the high end of the running back market, and 30 touches per game. (And if he didn’t get any of those things, he was going to hold his breath.)
That’s not the way it works in a team sport. The Chargers transitioned to a passing-based offense because: (1) they have an elite quarterback; and (2) the elite quarterback has a lot more left in the tank than L.T.
Like him or not, Philip Rivers also handles adversity a lot better. When Tomlinson banged up his knee in a postseason game, he headed for the empty end of the bench. When Rivers tore an ACL, he kept playing.
Though we continue to disagree with the manner in which the Chargers are handling the holdouts of left tackle Marcus McNeill and receiver Vincent Jackson, Rivers has played quite well the role of company man, making no waves about the fact that his blind side won’t be as secure as it could be. We can only imagine the things that Tomlinson would be saying if he were still on the team — and if he were being asked to enter the season minus 20 percent of his wall of blockers and one of the downfield weapons that prevent safeties from cheating up into the box.
Tomlinson now will try to prove that the Chargers gave up on him too soon. Jets coach Rex Ryan, who has a bad habit of blindly heaping praise on all of his players, thinks the Chargers blew it.
“We’ve got a great back in LaDainian, he’s tremendous,” Ryan said. “Does he look like he’s through? Absolutely not.”
Just as comments like that have served only to make cornerback Darrelle Revis want more money, we predict that Tomlinson will be sulking behind his visor if he isn’t the workhorse in the Jets’ backfield.
And he won’t be. Whether he realizes it or not, Tomlinson’s primary job is to take some touches away from rising star Shonn Greene. If successful, Tomlinson will prevent Greene from generating the kind of numbers that eventually could make him behave like, well, Tomlinson.