Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Thursday, September 15, 2011
Updated: September 16, 1:56 PM ET
Tomlinson finding ways to produce

By Jane McManus
ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan thinks LaDainian Tomlinson moves so well that when he retires, the running back could be a contestant on Dancing In The Stars.

What? That's not what the show is called?

Anybody can dance with the stars, Ryan said during his Thursday afternoon news conference. Tomlinson is good enough to dance in the stars. Perhaps he is a step slower out there, but he has all the experience and knowledge that can compensate for the slightest of declines.

Later, Tomlinson laughed but made it clear he's not up for a starring role in a reality show.

"I'm glad he can still see the skills," Tomlinson said. "Back then I was real fast; now I'm just fast."

At 32 and in his 11th NFL season, Tomlinson has found ways to maintain productivity for the New York Jets at a position that usually chews up guys in a few short years.

"He's a freak," offensive lineman Matt Slauson said. "Everybody counted him out, said he's too old, he can't do it anymore, but last year he destroyed everyone. In my opinion, he was the comeback player of the league."

This season, Tomlinson is officially more of a third-down back, with Shonn Greene getting the nod as the first. Yet on Sunday against the Cowboys, Tomlinson tied with Santonio Holmes to lead the team in catches with six. He had 73 receiving yards, three more than the wide receiver, in addition to 16 rushing yards.

"This is something that I always wanted to do, running routes out the backfield as I get a little older," Tomlinson said. "I embrace the role. Obviously I want to touch the ball, no doubt. And when I'm running routes, I want Mark [Sanchez] to look for me, no doubt. That's a part of the competitiveness that you have and want to contribute to the team, and there's nothing wrong with that."

But he recognizes he can't carry the ball every down anymore and needs to let the younger Greene do so.

"I think you approach it as not being as selfish as a guy who wants to do everything," Tomlinson said. "I just believe that you stay fresher longer throughout the year and throughout a game if you share the load a little bit. That way in the fourth quarter, you still have the burst and you still have the legs to finish the game off."

Longevity is the name of the game, and Tomlinson serves as an example to the other young backs on the team.

"Running back lifespan is not very long," John Conner said. "Said he's played 10-plus years -- that's pretty amazing on his part."

No matter what his role, Tomlinson has learned what he needs to do to be at his best when it counts.

"You're more disciplined," Tomlinson said. "You really understand what you need to eat, what weight you need to be at on game day to feel that energy and be ready to go. That's part that you learn over time. When you're young, you might eat crap on Saturday night. It doesn't matter. It doesn't affect you at all. Now, you have kind of learned. During the week, you learn what it takes to take care of your body and what you need to do to get ready to play."