LaDainian Tomlinson, in his first remarks with Jets reporters following his signing with the Green & White, first announced Sunday night, sounded perhaps a little tired on his conference call this morning. Was it the 8 a.m. Pacific Time he was operating on, or the process of his free agency tour, or just the low-key way this humble man from Waco, Texas, expresses himself?
But the player whom many know as LT spoke loudly regarding his hopes as the newest member of the New York Jets after officially signing his contract.
"The Giants got to cheer on their LT for so long. Now the Jets get their chance," Tomlinson said, referencing Giants Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor. "I'll tell you one thing. I come here to win a championship. I believe this team has the ability to do it."
And Tomlinson, on a HOF pace himself with his 12,490 rushing yards, 16,445 yards from scrimmage and 153 touchdowns, made it clear that he is ready for whatever role he gets and he makes for himself with the Jets, even if that is as a role player and mentor to second-year back Shonn Greene.
"The way I approached the situation was like I was leaving high school, going to college," he said. "You've got to fit in and find a role on the team. I don't expect anything to be given to me. I'm going to work for it. Wherever I fit in, I fit in.
"I have no ego. At this point it's all about the opportunity to win a championship. ... The Jets made it to the AFC Championship without me. How can I come in here and demand to be the starter. They were very good without me. I just want to be able to have a role on this team and contribute."
Tomlinson visited with the Minnesota Vikings before he came to North Jersey to meet the Jets officials who hosted him at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center during the day and then wined and dined him at dinner Friday night. He said the indecision over whether Brett Favre will return to the Vikings in 2010 didn't factor into his decision but that the possibility of lugging the leather more on the Jets than behind Adrian Peterson on the Vikes did.
"I thought I definitely may have an opportunity to get more touches with the Jets," he said. "Obviously, Peterson being in the third year of his career, it's just a different situation. And I thought being behind the 8-ball also in learning a new offense would be tough at this point. I've been in this type of offense the Jets run my whole career."
A major reason for that is because Jets coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was the QBs coach for four of Tomlinson's first five seasons with the Chargers.
"I think the majority of the decision came down to having to learn a new offense vs. playing in an offense I already know and with somebody I already know in Brian Schottenheimer," he said.
Many of the reporters' questions, to Tomlinson and to general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who preceded LT on the conference call, had to do with LT's recent production, a downturn in some key statistics for the past three seasons leading to last year's career-low numbers. Why should fans feel he'll be an upgrade at 31 years of age on opening day to Thomas Jones, who'll be 32 and in Chiefs red and gold in KC's opener?
Both the GM and his new old back said they see some winning leaps forward, not some steps back.
"People are going to speculate what they want. That's not my concern," said Tomlinson, who added that he'll be on hand for the start of the Jets' offseason strength and conditioning program at their complex next Monday. "I love to play this game. I'm very passionate about playing. This is a new opportunity for me. I'm very excited about the opportunity and I can't wait to get started."
"We always say the best players play, and we expect LaDainian to play a lot and touch the ball a lot," said Tannenbaum. "We can't say he's going to carry it eight times or 28 times. We do know one thing. We're going to run the ball a lot this season. I wouldn't rule out adding another back in the draft if that opportunity presented itself. But with LaDainian, the type of man he is, I think he's going to be a great representative of our organization and we're really glad he's here."
For more on Tannenbaum's comments with reporters, you can check out Eric Allen's Radar entry this afternoon.