Tomlinson gives post-practice pep talk to Chargers
Yes, that was LaDainian Tomlinson taking a handoff from Philip Rivers on Saturday.
Too bad it wasn't like it used to be, when Tomlinson would find either a big hole or the end zone.
''We did a handoff for old time's sake but it was at walkthrough pace so it wasn't full speed or anything,'' said Tomlinson, who retired 13 months ago and visited the San Diego Chargers' training camp as part of his job with the NFL Network.
New coach Mike McCoy asked L.T. to speak to the team after its first practice in pads. The former star running back then taped an interview with Rivers.
''It was a great feeling, really,'' said Tomlinson, who played nine mostly brilliant seasons with the Chargers before finishing his career with two seasons with the New York Jets.
''Mixed emotions because I started to get that feel of putting on the pads again but truly knowing that I don't need to put on pads anymore. It's over. But it was great seeing some of my olds teammates, really, Philip and Antonio (Gates) and Nick Hardwick and Eric Weddle. So many guys that I went to battle with and now seeing them as leaders of this football team.''
He said he talked to the players about making a commitment to themselves and each other, ''and don't worry about what everybody's saying in terms of where the Chargers are going to finish in the AFC West. It really depends on what they want out of themselves and if they commit to each other and come to work every single day and think about each other, they will exceed expectations.''
McCoy replaced Norv Turner, who was fired along with general manager A.J. Smith after the Chargers missed the playoffs for the third straight season.
''It's great to have a guy like that come in,'' McCoy said. ''To have one of the greatest Chargers of all time speak to the team, he just talked about what it meant to be a Charger and how fortunate we all are to be here and kind of the way we need to approach the game.''
Rivers said Tomlinson's pep talk ''was solid. He and I briefly talked and it was weird having him out here, not in uniform. It was more weird for him, I bet, just because it's like going back in time, like, `Y'all still here?' Hardwick, me and Gates, we're still doing the same thing we've been doing. He's great. It brings back memories seeing him out here.''
Rivers said it was a little different being interviewed by Tomlinson, ''but it was cool. It was very comfortable because it's a guy you stood there and talked to and handed the ball to many times.''
Tomlinson was the NFL's MVP in 2006. He's fifth on the all-time list with 13,684 yards rushing and third all-time with162 touchdowns. His 145 rushing touchdowns are second-most in history. He also passed for seven touchdowns.
Tomlinson signed a ceremonial one-day contract with the Chargers on June 18, 2012, and then announced his retirement.
Tomlinson said he likes the change in regimes and that the Chargers have to improve on offense. Playing behind a dreadful line last year, Rivers was sacked 49 times and committed 22 turnovers, giving him 47 turnovers in two seasons. Running back Ryan Mathews, who replaced Tomlinson in 2010, was hurt and continued his fumbling problem. He ran for only 707 yards and one touchdown before finishing the season on injured reserve.
''It seems to be a refreshing start. Everything is a new beginning for the Chargers and I think they're approaching it that way,'' Tomlinson said. ''Obviously the key is the rebound of the offensive line. They have to be able to protect Philip Rivers. Being sacked 49 times last year is way too many for your franchise quarterback.
''If they can get their offensive line to jell, and if Ryan Mathews can stay healthy and give them some production in the running game, the defense is going to take care of themselves. They're going to be good,'' Tomlinson said.
The Chargers rushed for only four touchdowns last year. By comparison, Tomlinson set NFL records with 28 touchdowns rushing and 31 touchdowns total during his MVP season of 2006.
''The run game controls the entire game,'' Tomlinson said. ''Whenever you're able to run the football and then put it in the end zone, that really wears the defense down. If you're not able to do that, typically things aren't going too well for you. But I think it's an area of focus for the San Diego Chargers, getting their running game going, getting Ryan Mathews going and I think they will have more rushing touchdowns this year.''
Mathews has had an uneven three seasons.
''I think he would tell you he's at a crossroads in his career. I think this season is going to determine whether Ryan Mathews continues to be a Charger or if he moves on somewhere else,'' Tomlinson said. ''I think he would tell you, absolutely he wants to be here. But has to make that commitment on the field, in the weight room, in the classroom and also, off the field.
Tomlinson said he's impressed with Te'o, the rookie from Notre Dame.
''The natural leadership qualities obviously are there. I see a really bright guy that knows the game of football and has really great fundamentals. Probably not the most athletic linebacker, but he makes up for it because he's such a smart guy. I think Manti Te'o's going to have a really good, long career and I think he's going to do some great things for the Chargers' defense.''
Tomlinson said the biggest adjustment for Te'o will be playing on third down.
''That's the hardest thing for any rookie. Heck, it was hard for me when I first came into the league, because the game is different on third downs,'' Tomlinson said. ''It's like it's two separate games. There's first and second downs, and then there's third downs. The different blitz packages, who he's covering, and remember, the Chargers defense, they play multiple coverages. That's one thing that Manti Te'o's going to have to get used to is playing multiple coverages.''
Te'o reportedly has the best-selling jersey among rookies. Tomlinson said he was at Disneyland last week and saw someone wearing a No. 50 Te'o jersey.
''It made me proud to see San Diego being represented in that way,'' Tomlinson said.
Te'o was in pads for the first time since Notre Dame's blowout loss to Alabama in the BCS national championship game.
''It's been a little while since we've all been in pads It's nice to get to concentrate on football,'' Te'o said. ''It feels good.''