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Recharged: Tomlinson aims to put Chargers back on title path

Discussion in 'American Football' started by Concudan, Jun 16, 2009.

  1. Concudan

    Concudan Meh... Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 5, 2006
    By Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY

    Hang around the NFL long enough and you'll experience just about anything.

    LaDainian Tomlinson, a longtime league star, can vouch for this.

    Tomlinson was part of a San Diego Chargers team last season that trailed the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos by three games with three to play but became the first team since the AFL-NFL merger to win a division crown after making up such ground in so little time.

    Then came the offseason and L.T.'s unmistakable it-can-happen-to-me moment.

    Until Tomlinson restructured his contract in March, there was no guarantee the classy face of the franchise would return to it in 2009.

    By training camp, Tomlinson will be 30 — the marker that triggers warning signals about the lifespan of an NFL running back. And with his last two seasons derailed by injuries coupled with a big salary, the Chargers weighed options such as the trade market like never before.

    Cold business, this NFL.

    "It was kind of an eye-opener," Tomlinson says. "Sometimes you think you're immune to those situations, and really you're not. You don't become bitter about it, but it reminds you that you can't let your guard down. You've got to be at your best and show your worth to your organization, as much as your opponents, on a yearly basis."

    Yet as Tomlinson prepares for his ninth pro season, his motivation isn't fueled by his salary or job security.

    It's still about winning a title, which has eluded the talented Chargers. Tomlinson, who arrived in 2001 when the rebuilding began after a 1-15 season, knows how far the franchise has come. He also can sense the clock is ticking.

    "We understand that this is our window," Tomlinson says of a team that is loaded on both sides of the ball. "Gaining the experiences we've had will help, just going through the heartbreaking playoff losses, battling through to win the division last season and going through the injuries."

    Coach Norv Turner has told his team that despite the lofty expectations and the widely circulated claim that they are the NFL's most talented outfit, they can't win a crown like contestants on American Idol. Popularity doesn't count.

    "They're not calling in and texting in votes," Turner told the audience at a recent luncheon. "If you want something, you've got to go earn it."

    Tomlinson is eager for another crack and says he's healthy after injuries short-circuited him in the last two postseasons. "Ask anybody who has seen me lately," Tomlinson says. "I'm probably looking as good as I have in years."

    While Tomlinson struggled for much of last season with career lows for carries (292), rushing yards (1,110) and 100-yard rushing games (two), quarterback Philip Rivers emerged as a force.

    But as much as Rivers' numbers (4,009 passing yards, 34 touchdown passes) reflect his growth, they are skewed in the big picture. Tomlinson had 51 rushes in the fourth quarter of games in 2008, second fewest in his career, which is what can happen when a team is throwing to play catch-up rather than finishing games by grinding down the clock.

    The plan still revolves around Tomlinson, who's averaged 332 carries a season in his career.

    Turner doesn't see himself significantly reducing Tomlinson's load. "L.T. is our lead back," Turner says. "There are some games when he's going to carry the ball almost exclusively. There are games Darren (Sproles) is going to be a great changeup."

    Tomlinson does not sound like a man worried about his role.

    "I'm pretty confident in my ability and what I'm able to do," he says. "I know this team is still going to rely on me for big plays and in closing the game. That's what I've always done."

    Tomlinson is also bullish on the return of all-pro linebacker Shawne Merriman, limited to one game last year because of major knee injury.

    That the Chargers generated only 28 sacks and 23 takeaways last season — dropping off an NFL-high 48 takeaways and 42 sacks in 2007 — while Merriman was sidelined was no coincidence.

    His absence affected the offense, too; there might have been fewer leads to chase if one of the league's most dominant defensive players had been on the field.

    "He's another guy excited about our opportunity," Tomlinson says of Merriman. "He's kind of got a chip on his shoulder. From talking to him, you really don't realize the impact you have when you're not around. We need him. When you lose a guy like that, it affects everything."

    Tomlinson thinks back to his arrival in San Diego, and he realizes the contrast.

    "When I first got here, we had one or two Pro Bowl guys," he remembers. "Now we've got Pro Bowl guys everywhere. That's how this has been built. That's something to be proud of."

    Yet the crowning moment hasn't happened yet. At least the Chargers hope not.



    Quarterback: Heading into his fourth season as a starter — and with three division crowns in hand —Philip Rivers keeps getting better. The NFL's most efficient passer in 2008 (105.5 rating) and owner of a league-high 34 touchdown passes, he demonstrated his ability to carry the offense.

    Running back: It is not often that a back seeks a rebound year after producing 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns from scrimmage, but LaDainian Tomlinson grades on a higher scale. L.T., a ninth-year pro with nagging injuries the past two seasons, is at the career point when durability questions persist. Explosive backup Darren Sproles has played himself into a bigger role. Fullback Jacob Hester doesn't block as well as predecessor Lorenzo Neal but offers good hands.

    Wide receiver: Fast, rangy Vincent Jackson has shown offseason signs that he might top his breakout 2008 and emerge among the NFL's best. Chris Chambers, nagged by injuries in '08, is crafty. Malcom Floyd has soft hands.

    Tight end: Is there a better receiving tight end than Antonio Gates, named to five consecutive Pro Bowls?

    Offensive line:
    If left tackle Marcus McNeill matches his tools with consistency, he can develop into one of the league's best. Center Nick Hardwick and left guard Kris Dielman, tenacious and experienced, bring stability. Rookie guard Louis Vasquez has made a positive first impression.

    Defensive line: Nose tackle Jamal Williams shared team MVP honors with Rivers, reflecting the value of an oft-overlooked force. With Igor Olshansky's departure, more is expected from returning linemen Luis Castillo,Jacques Cesaire and Ryon Bingham.

    Linebacker: Intense Shawne Merriman returns from knee surgery, fueling visions of races to the quarterback with opposite outside linebacker Shaun Phillips. But there's also a boost from No. 1 pick Larry English, who could replace Merriman if he signs elsewhere in 2010 as a free agent. On the inside, playmaker Stephen Cooper returns while Kevin Burnett arrives from the Dallas Cowboys.

    Secondary: What happened to Antonio Cromartie? After posting an NFL-high 10 interceptions in 2007, the acrobatic corner had two in '08 — but he played for an extended period with a broken hip. A healthy Cromartie is needed opposite Quentin Jammer, whose physical style tends to draw flags. Coaches are high on Antoine Cason, the No. 1 pick in '08. Free safety Eric Weddle is an instinctive player. Strong safety Clinton Hart might get challenged by rookie Kevin Ellison.

    Special teams:
    A top-notch unit. Sproles is always a threat to break a return. No one pins opponents better than punter Mike Scifres. Kicker Nate Kaeding is consistent. Kassim Osgood is one of the NFL's best cover men. Even long snapper David Binn is a cut above, heading into his 16th year.

    Coaching staff: Norv Turner has matched DonCoryell and Bobby Ross for most playoff victories by a Chargers coach (three). And with Rivers' growth coinciding with production, Turner is living up to his reputation as an offensive whiz. Ron Rivera, who replaced Ted Cottrell in midstream last season, heads into his first full season as defensive coordinator needing to generate aggressive pressure that produces more sacks and turnovers.

    Outlook: Three teams have more wins than the talent-rich Chargers since 2004, but the Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers have won Super Bowls in that span. The Chargers, favored to win a fourth consecutive AFC West crown, are on the brink of a title … again. Whether they succeed in that quest rightfully will define them.
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  2. BajaBolt

    BajaBolt BoltTalker

    Nov 6, 2007
    Good article. Of course, it's stuff all of us already know, but it's nice to see a national rag like USA Today actually get their stuff right.

    Man, I hope this is our year. I was feeling it going into last season, but when Merriman went down and Gates, LT, and Cro were obviously less effective with injuries, you could just tell it wasn't going to be their year.

    Even so, when you look back at this team and the heartbreaking 0-2 start, this team never stopped fighting and earned their way into the playoffs.

    It seems every other year is the way this team goes. They have a good year, then have a setback based on over cockiness. Let's hope they've learned that lesson, matured enough to take the next step, and most importantly avoid major injuries to our stat players.

    Pitts and NE are definitely going to be formidable, but we can definitely play with them. Just watched the Steelers game again and we were playing right with them in their house through the first half--- minus the last 2 minutes when the defense inexplicably went soft and allowed a TD. That definitely turned the game and that 3rd quarter was just so weird, that was all she wrote.

    The key will be this defense being able to be consistent and then peak and dominate at the end of the year. Having Rivera calling the shots from the get go, plus a healthy merriman, cro, and the additions of English, Ellison, and Martin, I think we have a good shot of being a top 5 defense.
    • Like Like x 1
  3. Buck Melanoma

    Buck Melanoma Guest

    All you LT haters ..... gather round to get your **** pushed in. :icon_twisted:
  4. wrbanwal

    wrbanwal Well-Known Member

    Dec 27, 2005

    I think this is our defining year, for sure :yes:

  5. ntman68

    ntman68 Well-Known Member

    Aug 16, 2006
  6. Concudan

    Concudan Meh... Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 5, 2006
    :unsure: You want people to line up so you can pus..... Ahhh Dont ask dont telll...

    Got it....

  7. Buck Melanoma

    Buck Melanoma Guest

    BDA :abq2: :icon_tease:

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