Tomlinson asks for patience after offseason of changes


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Jan 22, 2006
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Tomlinson asks for patience after offseason of changes

By: JAY PARIS - Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO ---- LaDainian Tomlinson hears the talk. The elite running back's ears aren't immune to offseason rumblings of Chargers fans bemoaning the loss of Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees.

"I say if we don't win this season, they should be upset,'' Tomlinson said. "But give us a chance to prove that we are winners.''

It pains a miffed Charger Nation, and Tomlinson, that their winning quarterback has hung his shingle in New Orleans. To Bolts boosters and Brees' teammates, the man with a 20-11 record the past two seasons was a saint before becoming a Saint.

"Drew went through hard times at one point here, and he was a guy that never pointed the finger at anybody,'' Tomlinson said. "He said, 'You know what, I'm going to play better and not talk about it ---- that I'm worthy of being the quarterback and leading this team to an AFC West championship.'

"That is the reason the guys loved Drew so much.''

But love often ends in divorce. That's how the Chargers' relationship with Brees finished after the team and quarterback failed to agree on a long-term contract. Tomlinson realizes the pact he had with Brees is now shared by others.

"No doubt, because Drew is a leader,'' said Tomlinson, who has known Brees since their Texas prep days. "He's going to walk in there and automatically change the perception of that franchise.''

Tomlinson revealed a recent conversation with Will Demps, the New York Giants safety and former San Diego State standout.

"He was saying, 'I met Drew, and he's such a good guy. I understand why you would want him at quarterback. After five minutes of talking to him, I understand this is what a quarterback is supposed to be like,' '' Tomlinson said. "That is just a perfect explanation.''

Clarifying the Chargers' offseason moves ---- Tomlinson declined ---- is another matter.

The team lost wide receiver Reche Caldwell, tight end Justin Peelle, defensive tackle DeQuincy Scott, cornerback Jamar Fletcher, linebacker Ben Leber and Brees. Its left tackle, Roman Oben, still can't wear cleats because of foot surgery.

The Chargers, with the draft on the horizon, added safety Marlon McCree.

Are the Chargers, a third-place finisher at 9-7 in 2005, better than last season's model?

"That's yet to be seen; I really can't tell you right now,'' Tomlinson said. "I do know we are a little bit more experienced, talking in terms of the young guys --- like Shawne (Merriman) and (Luis) Castillo. We have the potential to already be better.''

Potential is a frequent word escaping the Chargers' lips, especially when the discussion turns to Brees' replacement, Philip Rivers.

Rivers was a fourth overall selection in 2004 but has thrown only 30 NFL passes. Rivers was a North Carolina State star but has four fewer NFL touchdown tosses than Tomlinson.

So, L.T., is Rivers ---- he never has started an NFL game ---- going to be A-OK?

"I had a conversation with him about two-three weeks ago after (Brees' exit), and we both understand it's all about winning. That's all he is about, and that is great to know,'' Tomlinson said.

"He's not one of those guys who said, 'That's great I'm a starter, I can't wait to start partying and being the star.' That's not what he was talking about, so we are on the same page.''

Tomlinson said it's obvious Rivers' childhood was right.

"I give his father a lot of credit because he raised him the proper way to be a quarterback and handle different situations,'' Tomlinson said. "Not once did Philip ever complain in the locker room about wanting to play more. Not once.

"Instead he was out on the football field, telling (Antonio) Gates, Keenan (McCardell) and Drew what he saw. What I've learned about Philip is that he is a team player.''

Few first-year starting quarterbacks avoid the NFL's humbling learning curve. Tomlinson, though, said it can be minimized by running the ball more and Rivers relying on his supporting cast.

"I really feel like we have a good enough team with the guys around Philip,'' Tomlinson said. "There's our defense, the running game, a good tight end. We can take a lot of the pressure off of him. He won't have to do a lot.

"And look at his pedigree. He was what, the winningest quarterback in ACC history? He knows how to win, and he has all the guys around him. That's the reason I'm optimistic about him.''

Tomlinson was once optimistic about him and Brees ---- both members of the team's 2001 draft class ---- leading the Chargers to a Super Bowl title. These two proud and stubborn Texans were positive about flipping the Chargers' persona from doormats to dominant.

Despite earning an AFC West crown on their watch, they never won a playoff game, let alone hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy over their heads.

"But hardly anything is ever the way you draw it up,'' Tomlinson said. "We draw up plays in the classroom that look great, then we get out on the field on Sunday and it doesn't work.''

What worked for the Chargers was letting Brees and his mending right shoulder flee and putting the weight of the franchise's future on Rivers' shoulders.

Tomlinson just shrugs, proving he reads the tea leaves on the Chargers' executive walls as easily as deciphering a path to the goal line.

"I guess I always kind of prepared myself for what could happen, so when you do that you are not really shocked at all about it,'' Tomlinson said.

"It's a business, but at the same time you have to keep on pushing. If you don't, you are going to be left behind, and it might be you that they try to replace.''
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