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Front runners

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Sep 8, 2005.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    Source: <a href="http://www.pe.com/sports/breakout/stories/PE_Sports_Local_D_nfl_lt_08.318b3c4.html" target="_blank">Press-Enterprise</a>

    SAN DIEGO - A year ago, people were calling LaDainian Tomlinson the best player in the NFL. And that was when his team had no national profile to speak of, unless you counted a reputation for ineptness.

    Now, the Chargers are hot. And LT, as he's known down here, is even hotter. He's likely the first pick in a lot of fantasy football drafts, and if he achieves the goals he has in mind he'll be considered a steal.

    His trio of goals, in fact, is pretty audacious.

    Eric Dickerson's season rushing record of 2,105 yards, for one. Emmitt Smith's career rushing record of 18,355 yards, for another. And a Super Bowl for the Chargers.

    Are they doable?

    "Absolutely, but you've got to have a lot of things go right," said Tomlinson, the Chargers' fifth-year running back out of TCU. "It's out there, but I'm not dwelling on how many yards I have or playing for the record. If I decided to retire, I wouldn't stay around because of the record."

    Some perspective is in order.

    Tomlinson rushed for 1,335 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2004 -- with 18 touchdowns total, he led the AFC -- and did so with a sore groin that hampered him for several games at midseason. The only game Tomlinson sat out was the final game of the regular season against Kansas City, and that was because the Chargers had already clinched a playoff berth.

    "That just shows what kind of a work ethic he has," guard Mike Goff said. "The man's hurt, but instead of taking off and not playing at all he sucked it up and did what he could. I know he wishes he could have taken more reps, but it was important that he get that groin healthy. Once he did, he really took off."

    Tomlinson, the fifth pick of the 2001 draft, has gained 5,899 rushing yards in 63 games over four seasons, rushing for 54 touchdowns and catching passes for six more. He has made the Pro Bowl twice and was a consensus first-team All Pro selection in 2004.

    And here's a new concept, on an NFL landscape that seems to be dominated by holdouts, malcontents and attention-seekers: Tomlinson signed a six-year, $60 million contract extension in August 2004, and he has yet to come back and ask for more.

    Tomlinson, in other words, is a refreshing change, a guy with star quality who doesn't put himself above the team or mug for the cameras.

    "A true professional," quarterback Drew Brees called him. "It's really just a testament to the type of guy he is. As much success as he's had in his career, and will have in his career, he's a very grounded individual who treats everyone with a lot of respect."

    Tomlinson has more reason than most to rail at the unfairness of life.

    What was supposed to be a blessed moment, the birth of his and wife LaTorsha's first child, became unspeakable grief in February when LaTorsha suffered a miscarriage.

    "It was tough, absolutely ... it was very tough," Tomlinson said. "Time was the best answer for a situation like that. Luckily, since it was the offseason, I had a lot of time--time to get away, do some traveling, spend time with my wife."

    Brees said he wasn't sure if Tomlinson confided in any of his teammates at the time.

    "Obviously, that's a very private issue and something he did keep very private," he said. "It's very tough, and I think the last thing you'd probably want in that situation is for people to ask you about it. But he handled that in the way he felt best, and obviously we were all praying for him."

    He handled it with uncommon strength, head coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

    "He's a very unique human being," Schottenheimer said. "We all know him in his football mode, but off the field he's an equally gifted young man. I have great, great regard for him personally.

    "He has a great sense of perspective, and that gives him the ability to manage difficult situations."

    Tomlinson's skills, obviously, have been no secret. But the Chargers' 12-4 season in 2004, and the respect that has followed from the TV networks, means that Tomlinson has an opportunity to reach an even larger audience in 2005. San Diego returns to Monday Night Football Oct. 10 at home against Pittsburgh, and also has Sunday night national telecasts Sept. 25 against the New York Giants and Dec. 4 against the Raiders, both at home.

    "The more you win, the more games you get on TV, the more interest and attention you get, and the more people notice you," Brees said.

    The attention is ... well, not a burden, necessarily. More of an irritant.

    "I'm ready to play football," Tomlinson said. "I'm going to let everyone else, the fans and the media, talk about (his national profile). I'm going to do my job on the field.

    "I always try to keep the focus on the team. That's the way it should be. One individual shouldn't take up all the spotlight."

    Even when that person is uncommonly talented?

    "He has all the tools," said linebacker Donnie Edwards, who played against Tomlinson as a Kansas City Chief and now deals with him every day in practice. "He's fast. He has (great) instincts. He can cut on a dime. He's got great vision ... and he works hard."

    That's the trait that endears him to his teammates, particularly the guys who block for him.

    "I've had some great backs," Goff said. "I blocked for Corey Dillon in Cincinnati, but we always had a third-down back we brought in. To see LT out there first, second and third down ... even if he comes back and he's tired, he's still out there, still working his (tail) off. It makes you feel good because you're out there every play, busting your hump and trying to get a win. To see him right there with you boosts your morale."
     

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