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#GoIrish #Aztecs #SDGulls #Raiders #THFC #RipCity
Staff member
Jun 20, 2005
Chula Vista, CA

Stopping Chargers Running Back Key against San Diego
INDIANAPOLIS - The subject was LaDainian Tomlinson.

So naturally, the subject was also great NFL running backs, and specifically, just where Tony Dungy – the head coach of the Colts and someone who has coached against a great running back or two – would rate the player they now call “LT.”

Among the best to ever play, was Dungy's answer. Absolutely.

With one exception.

“Barry Sanders, to me, was impossible to defend,” Dungy said as the AFC South champion Colts (13-0), the fourth team in NFL history to start a season 13-0, prepared to play Tomlinson’s team, the San Diego Chargers (8-5), at the RCA Dome Sunday at 1 p.m.

“Because you could play everything right. You could look at a 70-yard run and say, 'I wouldn’t do anything differently. We’d play the same defense, have the same guys trying to tackle him and it’s still 70 yards.’

“With him, you just knew, ‘If he gets 25 carries, he’s breaking two long ones, and he’s going to have 150 yards.’ ”

Dungy discussed Sanders this week to illustrate a point: While Tomlinson, the Chargers’ fifth-year running back, may not quite be Sanders, he is great – enough so to merit inclusion among the all-time great running backs.

How good is Tomlinson?

Good enough to have made the Pro Bowl each of the last two seasons, and to merit Most Valuable Player consideration this season.

Good enough to be known in league circles by his initials.

How good?

Good enough to have rushed for more than 1,200 yards in each of his first four NFL seasons, and good enough to have rushed for 1,251 yards and 17 touchdowns on 282 carries this season.

How good?

Good enough that Colts President Bill Polian this week called him the “clearly the best back now playing,” adding, “That’s hard for me to say because of the respect I have for (Colts running back) Edgerrin (James) . . .

“But LT just does miraculous and marvelous things,” Polian said.

How good?

Good enough that Chargers Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer, in his 20th season as an NFL head coach, recently called him the best running back he ever has seen, bar none.

“He’s definitely a play-maker for them,” Colts linebacker David Thornton said. “He’s a large portion of their offense. It’s a big job for our defense this week to try to contain him.

“Not only in the run game, but he can definitely do things in the passing game as well.”

Tomlinson, Colts players, coaches and personnel officials said this week, is a rare talent – a running back capable of scoring from anywhere on the field whether running or receiving, and one also capable of powering through defenders on short-yardage situations.

“Just an incredible player,” Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen told USA Today this week, answering the question, “Who’s the best back in the NFL?”

“He’s the quintessential back. He’s gifted. He’s so natural – he’s blessed.”

Tomlinson is a dynamic enough player, Colts defenders said, that on a team that also features quarterback Drew Brees and tight end Antonio Gates – each of whom made the Pro Bowl last season – it is Tomlinson’s skills from the backfield that first must be addressed.

“When he’s on the field, you cannot relax,” Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett said.

Which was the same feeling Dungy had for years playing against Sanders in Tampa Bay, he said this week.

And while Dungy said he wouldn’t quite put Tomlinson in Sanders’ class, he emphasized he in no way means that as a slight toward Tomlinson.

“I almost put Barry in another category,” Dungy said.

Asked to name the best running back he’d ever seen, Dungy replied, “That’s a hard question, because you have different eras. They all were different. If you’re telling me I’ve got to win a game and I’m going to be able to give a guy 25 carries, I’m picking Barry Sanders because I think he’s going to score some points for me and make some plays, but LaDainian catches the ball and he does a lot of different things. That’s a hard question.

“You ask my dad, he’d say, ‘Jim Brown.’ You can’t even have a debate. Everybody else, you’re talking No. 2. All of the people from that generation, you can’t even have the discussion.”

Tomlinson, Dungy said, is a threat in a different way than Sanders was.

“They motion him out of the backfield,” Dungy said. “They throw the ball to him. He really is a tremendous goal-line runner. He does a lot of things, and it seems like when they need a play, he’s going to make one.

“They were kind of sputtering along against Washington, and things aren’t going right. He ties the game up and he wins the game in overtime. That, to me, is a sign of a great player – whatever the team needs, is what he does. That’s a great player.”

The point about Tomlinson, Dungy said, is he belongs in the conversation.

“Fifteen years from now, people from this era will say, ‘You can’t have the conversation without LT,” Dungy said. “He’ll certainly be one of those five or six that people argue about.”

And to Dungy, that’s as high a praise as he can imagine.