After a tumultuous start to the offseason in which he and general manager A.J. Smith had a public spat, the relationship between Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson and the team has improved dramatically.
He agreed to a renegotiated contract in March and was an active participant during San Diego’s offseason training program.
Despite the current era of good feelings, many critics outside the organization have questioned how much Tomlinson, who recently turned 30, has left in the tank.
He responded to those concerns Friday as Chargers players reported to training camp.
Asked by a reporter how he answers the doubters who think he is on the downside of his career at the age of 29, he quipped “Well I’m 30 now, I just turned 30, so I’ll correct you on that.”
Following a chuckle from the assembled press corps, he continued, “There’s a number or stigma that says you should be old at this position, at running back they say it’s 30. My challenge is to prove them wrong. It’s certainly going to be a heck of a challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”
Tomlinson then addressed his desire to break Emmitt Smith‘s career rushing yards record. In the past, he had refrained from proclaiming that as a goal, but now he openly admits he wants to beat the mark.
“You know, I want to walk away from the game when I say I’m ready to walk away and leave no regrets at all,” said Tomlinson. “That’s kind of the reason for the change of wanting to go after Emmitt’s record …”
If one thing is for sure, his coaches and teammates aren’t betting against him.
Chargers LB Shawne Merriman said he is expecting a big year from Tomlinson.
“I think he has more motivation this year than any other years. Sometimes people have to realize they’re dealing with a different breed.”
San Diego coach Norv Turner echoed those sentiments and is happy Tomlinson is healthy after an injury-filled 2008 season.
“He wasn’t healthy and running around like this last year. It’s great to have him looking like himself,” Turner said.
The coach added that he thinks Tomlinson can challenge for the 2009 rushing title and that there are no plans to significantly reduce his carries.
“We’re going to do what we have to do to win football games and LT is a big part of what we do to win football games,” Turner said. “LT is going to end up with enough carries to contend to win the rushing title and that’s when he’s at his best.”