|LaDainian Tomlinson says, “Every year you’d better have something to prove.’’ (Al Bello/Getty Images)|
Tomlinson still makes plenty of plays, noise
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — When Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer thinks of LaDainian Tomlinson, he sees arms waving frantically in the air. He sees the running back baiting a hostile crowd, daring tens of thousands of fans to raise their voices, to make it as difficult as possible for his offense.
“I always love LT, because when you play on the road, he’s the guy when the crowd is getting loud, he’s always the guy that’s kind of asking for them to be louder,’’ Schottenheimer said. “That’s just kind of the way he sees things. It’s not about what you guys are going to do, it’s about us.’’
It’s a strange strategy, one that would seemingly backfire on the offense. Somehow, though, Tomlinson has made it work for his teams. And he’ll get another chance to try it out when the Jets — and their not-quite-over-the-hill running back — play the Patriots at Gillette Stadium tonight.
“I think it’s LT’s way of saying it doesn’t matter,’’ said Schottenheimer, who was the quarterbacks coach with the Chargers during part of Tomlinson’s tenure in San Diego. “Just watch him, it’s funny . . . That’s what he’s always done. I think you have to ask him, but I think it’s just because it doesn’t matter — make it as loud as you want, we’re still going to have success.’’
That goes for Tomlinson, too. The running back amassed 12,490 yards in the nine years as a member of the Chargers, before San Diego cut its fading star in February, just before he was set to pick up a $2 million roster bonus. So Tomlinson packed up and headed to New York, where in his first 11 games (741 yards) he has exceeded his 2009 production (730 yards in 14 games).
His first five games with the Jets were particularly impressive, with Tomlinson gaining a season-high 133 yards against the Bills Oct. 3, and following that up with 94 against the Vikings the following week. His emergence helped take some of the pressure off second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez, and helped remind those around football that he’s not done yet.
“Absolutely,’’ he said, when asked if he had something to prove. “I think every year we have something to prove, each player. Because every year you really have a one-year contract, if you think about it. So every year you’d better have something to prove. But more so this year than anything because I think people felt like I was on the downside of my career and I was on my way to being out of the league.’’
But it might not be so easy to push him out, especially after this season. Tomlinson has a two-year deal with the Jets.
“We have got a great talent, a guy that can really run the football, great out of the backfield, excellent competitor in pass protection, and things like that, the way he blocks, great teammate,’’ Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “I mean, absolute great teammate, a real pro. He’s a guy that really builds people up, builds his teammates up, really encourages guys. There’s a reason he was a former man of the year in this league. He’s that kind of guy.’’
Tomlinson’s production has waned of late. Ryan has given him time off in practice, fewer repetitions, to help keep him fresh as the season winds down, and for the postseason. After that game against Minnesota, Tomlinson has rushed for no more than 57 yards in any of the subsequent six games.
“To me, the only thing that matters is the end, the things that I’m able to contribute to this team going forward in the critical months, meaning this month, January, hopefully February,’’ Tomlinson said. “That’s how I look at it.’’
With Tomlinson already the No. 7 rusher in NFL history (13,231 yards) — and likely to pass Eric Dickerson (13,259) for sixth tonight — it’s hard not to look at what he has done this season, and what he has the potential to do. Tomlinson appears focused on winning his first Super Bowl.
“For me, and I hope a lot of these guys, you don’t get caught up in what you’ve done,’’ Tomlinson said. “You take it one game at a time. So it’s hard for me to look back and say, ‘Well, up to this point we’ve done this,’ because everything depends on this game, and so I just can’t do it. It’s been a good season so far, but we want to end it the right way.’’