Thursday, October 20, 2011
Updated: October 21, 9:46 AM ET
LaDainian Tomlinson: No hard feelings
By Ian Begley
Special to ESPNNewYork.com
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson will get his first start of the season on Sunday when the San Diego Chargers, his ex-team, come to town.
"The first snap of the game, you want to be respectful of LT," coach Rex Ryan said Thursday in announcing the decision.
Tomlinson was the face of the Chargers during his nine-year run in San Diego.
He won the league's MVP award in 2006 when he scored an NFL-record 31 touchdowns. He ran for at least 1,100 yards in eight of his nine seasons in San Diego.
There was a time when Tomlinson thought he'd a Charger for life, but he reportedly grew disenchanted with the team when his role was diminished.
After a somewhat acrimonious departure from the Chargers, Tomlinson signed with the Jets prior to the 2010 season.
The 11-year veteran insisted on Thursday that he has no ill will toward San Diego.
"I'm not a guy who holds grudges or tries to prove anybody wrong," Tomlinson said. "I don't have time for that. It's nonsense. I had a great time there, a great nine years. And I won't make it more than what it is."
He even hinted he may retire as a Charger.
"It's possible," Tomlinson said. "... I think Dean Spanos is a great guy, I had a great relationship with him. So it's possible that I could."
Most of Tomlinson's stay in San Diego was fun. Selected fifth overall in the 2001 draft after an All-America career at TCU, he made three All-Pro teams as a Charger and for several seasons was the NFL's most feared running back. Tomlinson has excelled as a runner, receiver and blocker.
"He's one of the guys we all look up to," said Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, another former Chargers starter.
It is a pivotal game for the Jets, who snapped a three-game losing streak with a win over the Miami Dolphins last Monday night. The Jets (3-3) will look to break .500 against the 4-1 Chargers.
Tomlinson insists that he won't play with added motivation to prove his old employer wrong, but Ryan thinks it's only "natural" to do so.
"I don't think there's any doubt," he said. "I think those are special moments for guys. It's not that it's a bad thing, like, 'I'm going to show that team.'"
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who was a coach on San Diego's staff during Tomlinson's tenure, believes Sunday will be "special" for the NFL's active leader in rushing yards (13,501).
"His heart will be racing a little bit, I'm sure," Schottenheimer said.
Tomlinson, 32, is averaging 3.3 yards on 29 carries this season as a backup for starter Shonn Green. He has taken on a leadership role in a Jets locker room that features a few loud personalities.
"People respect him for what he's done in the past in San Diego. People want to listen to him and respect the stature he holds in the league," veteran guard Brandon Moore said.
Surprisingly, Tomlinson still hasn't scored a touchdown in a Jets home game. All six of his touchdowns have come on the road. He'd like to end that streak on Sunday. But he insists that desire has nothing to do with getting revenge on his old team.
Tomlinson says his sole focus on Sunday is "to get a win, obviously."
He added: "I'm not going to get in to show them anything. I want to play well for this team, make plays for this team and just do the best that I can."
Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.