Ground and Pound took a back seat in tonight's Green & White Scrimmage at SUNY Cortland as the Jets went to the air early and continued to throw the ball down the field.
It all started with the very first play. For a Jets team that had the best running game in the NFL last season, it was surprising to see their opening drive start with an empty set. That's when quarterback Mark Sanchez dropped back and hit LaDainian Tomlinson perfectly in stride on a go route that went for a 70-yard touchdown.
"Schotty called the play," Tomlinson said of Jets coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, "and I knew I had a 1-on-1 coverage. I just wanted to make a play for the team. Mark threw a great ball and I went and got it and scored a touchdown."
Although many questioned whether Tomlinson was still able to perform at a high level after the Jets acquired him this spring, by burning linebacker David Harris for the touchdown he proved he still has plenty in the tank. In live action for the first time with the Jets, both WR Santonio Holmes and Tomlinson impressed, but it was Holmes who came away with glowing words for the former NFL Most Valuable Player.
"That scrimmage today was amazing," Holmes said. "For us to come out and get it done on the first play — Mark found a mismatch and found LT running down the sideline. I think that was a great start to how we want this team to start come the first game of the season."
The well-spoken Tomlinson seemed pleased with his entire practice and having the chance to get into the groove and take some hits. He was untouched on his touchdown, however. The play, which was only one of a number of touches Tomlinson got on the day, became the microcosm of the development of this Jets offense.
"LT had an awesome catch the first drive and you love to start out the game like that," Sanchez said. "It was an alert. We have a specific read, we have addendums to a read. We have alerts sometimes if we like a matchup. We figured we'd give LT a shot and that was it. He did the rest."
There have been glimpses of Tomlinson's abilities, starting all the way back in OTAs. He's been steadily showing his value in third-down situations. As one of the best receiving backs in the game, he will be yet another option in the passing game that was limited last year after Leon Washington was injured. Tomlinson has been teaching his receiving craft to second-year man Shonn Greene but has been honing his skills as well.
"It's something that we've been working on," Tomlinson said. "But you come out here and do it in a game-type situation, then the coaches really see, when the lights are on, who is going to step up. It was good to come out here and do that. We're just going to continue to build on it. It was a great day today, it was a good start and we look forward to continue to make progress in our offense."
The 10th-year man out of Texas Christian spent his entire career in San Diego, amassing 12,490 yards on 2,880 carries for 138 touchdowns. In addition, he accrued 3,955 yards on 530 receptions for 15 touchdowns, making him a dual threat. In 2003, he caught 100 passes and has been a five-time Pro Bowl selection and a four-time All-Pro first-team selection.
The pedigree is there for all to see, and it was the Jets who came calling for his receiving and running services this offseason.
"I mentioned that, I think, when we first signed him," head coach Rex Ryan said. "This is what he brings to the table. Not only the fact that he is a great running back but he's outstanding in protection and he's outstanding as a receiver out of the backfield and also flexed out. He can still do it and you look at the receiving skills. Those matchups, if you put a linebacker on him, good luck to you."
Last season the Jets were run-oriented and other teams game-planned against it. This year the Jets will still have that running capability, but their opponents are going to have to respect the passing game as well. For a guy like Tomlinson who can do both successfully, this year could be open season.
"I think that's our focus," Tomlinson said. "We want to be an all-weather football team, to be able to go anywhere and perform at a high level. Whether we have to run the football or if we have to throw it, we have to be able to do both. With the guys we have we can definitely make that happen."