Tomlinson motivated to prove detractors wrong

SAN DIEGO (AP) — LaDainian Tomlinson took the handoff from Philip Rivers, faked right and cut through a massive hole on the left side.

“Oh yeah,” Rivers yelled. “Look at that!”

Most eyes were tracking the running of No. 21 at the Chargers? first full-squad training camp workout Friday at Chargers Park.

That the five-time Pro Bowl player would be starting his ninth season with the Chargers was hardly a given during a contentious offseason. The Chargers wanted Tomlinson to restructure his contract after producing career-low marks in 2008, a season derailed by toe and groin injuries. A new deal was struck despite some biting comments from Chargers general manager A.J. Smith.

“It?s good to be back and I?m excited,” Tomlinson said. “And everything that goes in between.”

But he’s dogged by whispers that he may be losing a step. While his 2008 numbers would be high points for some backs – 1,110 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns — for Tomlinson they were far off his usual pace.

“Everybody wants to compare him to 2006,” said left guard Kris Dielman, referring to the year Tomlinson rushed for 1,815 yards and scored an NFL-record 31 touchdowns. “But that was like Barry Bonds hitting 73 home runs in a season. It wasn?t going to happen again.”

Tomlinson hears the talk and says it doesn?t bother him.

“I?m not hurt at all,” said Tomlinson, who has 11,760 rushing yards, 3,801 receiving yards and 141 touchdowns for his career.

“That is the perception not only for me but running backs throughout history,” he said. “That is something you fight against every day and every year. Not only me, but every guy at certain positions there is a number or stigma or whatever you want to call it that says you should be old at this position at this point of your career. At running back, it says 30.

“So my challenge is to prove them wrong and it is certainly going to be a heck of a challenge and I?m certainly looking forward to it and in the long run I think it?ll help me out.”

Tomlinson also has to contend with the emergence of Darren Sproles. The Chargers designated Sproles as the team?s franchise player and it figures the Chargers seek to get plenty of bang for their $6.6 million.

Coach Norv Turner said the Chargers will rely on Tomlinson as they always have.

“We will do what we have to do to win football games and L.T. is a big part of this offense when we are going good,” Turner said. “There is no question Sproles showed he can complement L.T., but L.T. is going to end up with enough carries, as I?ve said, to be a contender for the rushing title. I think that is when he is at his best.”

But when the Chargers have needed him most – in the playoffs following the last two seasons – injuries have prevented Tomlinson from playing. He said he approached this offseason differently, hoping to stay fit until the final game.

“I spent some time with a bio-mechanics doctor to just kind of get myself back together. I was so messed up to be honest with you,” Tomlinson said.

“I?m completely recovered, didn?t have any setbacks. I was out there at minicamps, OTAs and didn?t have any problems so I knew that when we got to training camp that I would pretty much be healthy,” he said.

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