In April of 2001 when the San Diego Chargers selected LaDainian Tomlinson 5th overall in the NFL Draft, fans were instantly enthralled by the possibilities of what he could offer to the team’s offense. That captivation proved to be justified throughout LT’s decade long stint with the Bolts where he would amass a number of NFL records and become one of the league’s greatest running backs of all-time. When the team chose to cut ties with Tomlinson after the 2009 season allowing him to sign with a new club, the reaction was mostly positive after a significant dropoff in production to just 730 yards on the ground and a number of nagging injuries hindering his ability to explode like the LT of old.
Now with the New York Jets, Chargers fans have to be nauseous watching Tomlinson explode through holes and make cuts like the player from the mid 2000’s. Through just four games in a Jets uniform, LT has 341 yards or nearly half of his entire total for the 2009 season with the Bolts. As if the way he left San Diego wasn’t painful enough with some choice words about the players in the locker room and the organization itself, Bolts fans are now forced to ask themselves whether or not LT was sandbagging during his final season with the team.
Many will try to dispel this as a possibility by saying that Tomlinson’s offensive line in San Diego was nothing like the group in New York when in fact the Bolts line allowed only 26 sacks in 2009 which tied for the 6th lowest total in the league. Amazingly even a line that skilled at protecting the passer ranked last in yards per carry average at just 3.3 and second to the bottom in rushing yards with just 1,423 on the season. The Jets were the polar opposite in 2009 rushing for a league leading 2,756 yards and a sparkling 4.5 yards per carry.
Do these numbers reflect more on the caliber of the team’s offensive line or the effort level of the players carrying the football?
That is the crucial question when attempting to evaluate whether Tomlinson was actually going at full speed during his final season with the Chargers. Certainly there were moments when he showed flashes of the LT of old where he would make defenders miss before accelerating through a hole into the open field, but those were rare occurrences during his last season with the Bolts. Did injuries contribute to his lack of burst or did his age make it difficult to find the small creases that the Bolts offensive line was opening up at times? Absolutely, but the effort level from seasons past always masked any deficiencies from the team in terms of blocking.
What brought this piece to its creation was the fact that watching Tomlinson in New York this season really creates a sense of disappointment in him as an athlete. It is apparent that there is still some jump in those 31 year old legs and some drive to make some noise at that ancient age for running backs, but where were those characteristics last season? Call it bitter if you wish, but watching LT with the Jets take over the starting role from Shonn Greene in that backfield is just tough to deal with as both a Chargers fan and a diehard Tomlinson supporter.
To think that LT actually didn’t give one hundred percent effort during his final days in San Diego is just somewhat heartbreaking to the fan in me. He had all of those successful seasons in Qualcomm Stadium with the undying love of the fans in the stadium and as such a pillar in the community, why would he prefer to move on under those circumstances? Some mysteries are better left unsolved and this might qualify as one of those, but if Tomlinson does in fact go on to eclipse the 1,000 yard plateau this year and revitalize his career in New York, what does that say about the Bolts locker room and the offensive line in particular? Head Coach Norv Turner’s reduced role for Tomlinson in the Bolts offense definitely hurt his pride as an athlete, but could that all have been avoided with just a bit more desire from LT?
All of these questions and more are left for the fans to ponder, but it just doesn’t sit well to think that Tomlinson was giving anything less than his absolute maximum effort for the team in 2009.
Now it’s your turn, do you think LT’s decline in San Diego was self-inflicted or was the offensive line to blame for his drop in numbers? Did Norv Turner’s reduced role for Tomlinson make him more anxious to leave San Diego or was it inevitable that he and the Bolts would part ways? Perhaps the most poignant question is do you think that Tomlinson going at full speed during his final year in San Diego or given his performance to start the season in New York, do you believe he gave it less than one hundred percent at times during the 2009 campaign? Give your opinions below!
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