- Aug 18, 2005
September 20, 2005
The Chargers are 19-15 when LaDainian Tomlinson has at least 26 touches, 10-23 when he doesn't.
As the whole of Chargerland scurries to understand the reasons and ramifications of an 0-2 start, LaDainian Tomlinson waits.
His is a quiet respect tinged with expectancy.
Tomlinson has not asked offensive coordinator Cam Cameron the question on every Charger fan's mind. That being: What's the deal?
"I haven't yet," Tomlinson said yesterday as he walked to his car after a day of examining on film and on the practice field what went right and wrong in Sunday's 20-17 loss at Denver. "I've been very eager to figure out the right time to push that button."
Tomlinson has not caught a pass and has had just two balls thrown his way in two games this season, the only two games in his career he has gone without a reception. And while he has three touchdowns, he has carried the ball just 19 times in each of the first two games.
In his first four seasons, Tomlinson averaged 26.4 touches (including 4.7 receptions) per game. When he gets at least 26 touches, the Chargers are 19-15, not a sure thing but pretty good considering the Chargers are 29-38 overall during his career. Including the two losses to open this season, when he doesn't get at least 20 touches, the Chargers are 2-10.
Everyone knows Tomlinson needs the ball more. The explanations for why that has not happened the past two weeks are myriad.
First and foremost, it must be noted the offense had just 51 plays at Denver. The Chargers normally shoot for at least 65 plays, a goal that Sunday would have projected to 24 carries for Tomlinson. His 19 touches Sunday accounted for 37 percent of the team's plays, just two percent lower than his portion of the offense in 2004. (The Chargers did have 63 plays in the season-opening loss to Dallas.)
Furthermore, Tomlinson has been needed in pass protection because defenses are blitzing and the offensive line is leaking. Also, there are more viable options (see Antonio Gates, Keenan McCardell, Eric Parker) for quarterback Drew Brees than in past seasons. And Dallas and Denver, both strong defenses, have loaded up to stop Tomlinson at the line and in coverage.
Still, Tomlinson remains perplexed.
"I don't know, and it hasn't really been talked about (internally)," he said. "I can't tell you I don't wonder, because I do. I just figure he will know when the right time . . . "
At that, Tomlinson trailed off. Shrugging, he managed: "I don't know what to say."
The "he" to which Tomlinson referred was Cameron, who was unavailable for comment due to the fact head coach Marty Schottenheimer insists on being the sole spokesman for his coaching staff. And the fact is, Schottenheimer has the power to change the play calling, and yesterday he acknowledged the obvious.
"When we look at our passing game, the one element we have not been able to utilize effectively is LT as a receiver," Schottenheimer said. "There is no doubt he has been a terrific receiver for us, and we haven't done a good enough job in getting him the ball."
Brees, whose numbers are not what he would like, would prefer a bigger dose of Tomlinson and believes it will come.
"It's just one of those things that hasn't happened yet," Brees said. "But I'm confident he's going to be very much involved in the passing game as we go down the road. We need to get LT his 30-plus touches a game, whether it's running the ball or catching the ball."
For his part, as much as he wants more action, Tomlinson mostly looks within.
"I don't want to make it seem like I'm complaining about (not) getting the ball," he said. "I had the ball 19 times the last two games. Any time you get the ball that much you've got to be able to make something happen."
Aside from the Tomlinson conundrum, the focus yesterday was on regrouping, correcting the "little" mistakes the Chargers made Sunday and trying to grasp the unlikely enormity of the season's third game.
"There's a sense of urgency," McCardell said. "The season starts to get shorter and shorter. We have got to come with it."
Yet the Chargers were sure to note there is no panic. "We're a football team that has played two good opponents, and we have (not) made less than a handful of plays that (the opponents) found a way to make," Schottenheimer said. "We have 14 games to play, and it's a formidable schedule, but it is not my nature at this juncture in time to run out (and say) 'The sky is falling.' "
Nuts 'n' Bolts
Guard Toniu Fonoti acknowledged his broken hand affected his technique Sunday and that it hurt, but he said: "I should have still been able to get it done." Fonoti was removed in favor of Kris Dielman early in the fourth quarter. "I wasn't surprised they took me out," he said. Schottenheimer said Fonoti will start Sunday against the Giants.
Receiver Vincent Jackson (calf) and defensive end Igor Olshansky (knee, ankle) are expected to return to practice Wednesday. Defensive end Jacques Cesaire had X-rays on the elbow he injured Sunday. The X-rays revealed no fracture, but he may still need to take it easy in practice this week.
Approximately 1,500 tickets remain for Sunday night's game, to be televised nationally on ESPN. Should the game not sell out by 5:30 p.m. Thursday, it will be blacked out locally.