SDUT: Chargers more than one-man show

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Staff member
Jun 20, 2005
Chula Vista, CA

Team has thrived by sharing ball

By Kevin Acee

November 18, 2005

Cam Cameron revealed last week that he "gets goose bumps" watching LaDainian Tomlinson.

So there it is: The Chargers' offensive coordinator does know what he has in the man many consider the game's best running back.

Speaking with the media for the first time this season, Cameron preached at length about his use of Tomlinson. His sermon, of course, was in response to the many questions he was asked about his use of Tomlinson.

How the Chargers employ the three-time Pro Bowler has been the topic of spirited discussion this season, in which he had just 38 touches in the first two games and remains on pace to get the ball fewer times than in any of his first four seasons – even fewer than last season, when he was hampered by a hip injury.

And, finally, there was Cameron to join in the dialogue. He and the other assistants are normally barred by head coach Marty Schottenheimer from speaking with reporters, but Cameron was free to talk last week.

"From my perspective this is a marathon," Cameron said. "It's a 16-game season. You don't ever come out of a game saying, 'Boy, I'm glad he didn't touch the ball.' You've seen it for four years. You know how much he does get it. You know what we're trying to do. The defenses don't always let you do that.

"You can take a guy like that and you can wear him out if you're not careful. We have a special guy, and I'm not going to abuse him. We've got to be smart, and we've got to make sure he gives us a chance to win. But you can take a guy like that and overdo it.

"Larry Bird taught me this when I was a young kid: To be good in any sport, you've got to keep everybody involved. The last thing we can afford to do is become a one-guy offense."

Cameron grew up in Indiana and used to play in pickup games with Bird. But, really, it doesn't take lessons learned from the Legend to know the Chargers' offense is more than a one-man show.

In fact, the use of Tomlinson this season – or lack thereof – appears to be the most significant reason the offense has improved.

In 2003, Tomlinson became the first NFL player to gain 1,000 yards and catch 100 passes in the same season and finished with 2,370 yards from scrimmage, 59 yards shy of Marshall Faulk's NFL record. Tomlinson accounted for 45.9 percent of the Chargers' offensive yards that season, in which they finished an NFL-worst 4-12.

"We're more balanced," said Tomlinson, who has accounted for just 35 percent of the team's yards this season. "That's what makes us better than we have been."

Tomlinson ranks sixth in the NFL with 835 rushing yards and is fourth with 1,099 total yards from scrimmage. Of the players ahead of him, none runs in an offense in which six receivers have 12 or more receptions, as Tomlinson does.

The Chargers' first-half performance against the Jets on Nov. 6, in which they scored on their first three possessions and were driving for a fourth, illustrated why Tomlinson is not everything he could be statistically.

Antonio Gates was catching the ball inside (five times for 95 yards). Reche Caldwell had four receptions on the outside. Keenan McCardell went high for one stunning 21-yard grab. And this was with Eric Parker out with an injury.

Tomlinson's second touchdown (of four) against the Jets, however, showed why Tomlinson is free to do some of the things he does.

On that play, from the 25, Gates lined up to the right with linebacker Mark Brown on him. As Gates ran down the field, Brown and safety Erik Coleman drifted with him, leaving a huge open space in which Tomlinson caught a short pass from Drew Brees.

On his way to the end zone Tomlinson froze Pro Bowl cornerback Ty Law with a spectacular move that might only be duplicated on a video game. But he was able to get the ball on the run in space because of Gates' presence.

"Exactly!" Tomlinson exclaimed. " . . . I'd rather have a balanced offense than have to rely on one person. I'm fine with it as long as we're winning. I know I don't have to play over my head. I can let the game come to me."

Which evidently is what Cameron is letting happen, as well.

"I like our group as a whole," Cameron said. "Defenses in this league kind of know what they're doing. You've got to make sure when they take LT away, what does that create for Gates or Keenan or Eric Parker?

"We as an offensive staff take a lot of pride in keeping everybody involved but knowing where the offense starts. It starts with LaDainian."