Commentary

Gang Green could have ego problem

The Jets' veteran stars must follow LaDainian Tomlinson's lead and learn to share

Updated: August 22, 2011, 9:45 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

It's all good now, but there will come a time when it gets complicated for the New York Jets, when the ball doesn't get distributed evenly among the "big three" at wide receiver or when the offense starts straying from its ground-and-pound roots.

The shifts are bound to happen as part of the natural ebb and flow of an NFL season, with every little trend magnified because this is Gotham. For the Jets, the 2011 season will be a delicate balancing act, the balancing of ego and philosophy. If it starts to go bad -- we said "if," not "when" -- they should take a long look at one of their own.

LaDainian Tomlinson.

The future Hall of Famer has displayed the kind of unselfish attitude that should serve as an inspiration to his teammates. He has lost salary and playing time, two swift kicks to the gut for any professional athlete.

Tomlinson was told a few months back that he'd be a part-time player in 2011, the third-down back. He embraced the change, saying his goal was to become the best third-down back in the league. After reducing his role, the Jets came after his money, getting him to take more than a 50 percent pay cut before training camp opened.

Cynics might say Tomlinson didn't have much of a choice, but he could've made a stink. He didn't. He didn't because, in the twilight of his great career, he believes that "sometimes ego is the downfall of athletes." He didn't want to become one of those guys.

"I made it clear, my ego is out the door," Tomlinson said last week in a quiet moment at camp. "That's not what it's about for me. I've always said that I want to have a chance to win a championship. When you back up what you talk about, guys see that and say, 'You know what? That's the right way to do it.'"

[+] EnlargeDerrick Mason
William Perlman/US PresswireDerrick Mason looked at LT's situation when he decided to join the Jets.

Tomlinson already has made that impact on one of his newest teammates, wide receiver Derrick Mason. When he was weighing free-agent offers earlier this month, Mason thought about Tomlinson and how he passed up more money elsewhere to play for a shot at the Super Bowl, and how he accepted a smaller role in Year 2 to keep alive that dream.

"When I was making my decision, that was one of the things I talked about," Mason said. "Didn't tell nobody, but I thought about LT's situation: Do I want to put everything else aside to try to win a championship? Obviously, I made the decision to put everything else aside to win a Super Bowl."

The Jets have a fascinating dynamic on offense. Consider:

They have four players who have been go-to guys in previous stops: Tomlinson, Mason, Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes. Only one of them -- Holmes -- still has that distinction. He's got the big contract, too: five years, $45 million. The other three are drawing relatively modest salaries.

If old egos die hard, the Jets are going to be in trouble. It will be almost impossible to keep everybody happy all the time because there will be stretches when one or two of them don't see the ball. Remember, the Jets also have Dustin Keller, a talented tight end, and Shonn Greene, their new No. 1 ball carrier. There are a lot of mouths to feed.

On Sunday night, Mark Sanchez did a nice job of distributing the ball to Burress and Holmes and Keller, who combined for 10 catches, 158 yards and two touchdowns in only one half, but it was only the Cincinnati Bengals and it was only the preseason. It's not going to be a storybook script every week.

It also will be interesting to see how coordinator Brian Schottenheimer balances run versus pass. Rex Ryan says he wants to let Sanchez throw more than in the past, but will the coach's run-oriented, defensive-minded philosophy actually allow that to happen? The last thing Ryan wants to lose is the Jets' identity as a physical offense.

But Sanchez continues to improve, and if Holmes, Burress and Mason stay healthy, it's going to be tempting to open up the offense. Burress already is talking about how he wants to average 28 to 30 points a game. Do you know the last time the Jets averaged 28 per game? It was 1968, their Super Bowl season. Here's to you, Broadway Joe.

The Jets have the talent to be special, but it's going to take luck and sacrifice. It's going to take a Tomlinson-like attitude.

"When you're talking about winning a championship, it's not all about who's getting paid what or who the stars are," Tomlinson said. "It's going to take everybody."

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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