Running on Empty?: The Truth About LaDainian Tomlinson

Sam WilsonContributor IDecember 4, 2008

The recent form of the San Diego Chargers has heralded a great deal of criticism for a team that was expected to challenge for a place in the Super Bowl this season. Many factors have played a part in this downturn and the resulting 5-8 record: the stuttering defence, the jittery offense and injured players.

But one issue has been lingering in the back of my mind: What is going on with LT?

Arguably the Chargers' most recognised talent and the scourge of defensive coordinators in the NFL for the past seven seasons, LaDainian Tomlinson seems to be taking it easy this year.

The San Diego running game has faltered this year, there is no doubt about it but is it because LT has hit the wall? Did we seen the best of LT under Marty Schottenheimer's coaching when the Chargers made it 14-2 back in the 2005 season?

The shortened answer is no.

I think LT has plenty more in the tank but he isn't the only problem that has shaken San Diego to a pitiful 5-8 record and held him to a measly 885 yards. One of the most significant problems is that this year San Diego have struggled and almost immediately Tomlinson has come under fire and taken a huge amount of the criticism that should rightfully rest with the other members of the team and the coaching staff.

One man cannot carry an NFL team to the playoffs—it doesn't matter what position, it doesn't matter how old they are, its just not possible. Players standout in a team, but then when a team doesn't perform you cant lay the blame at the feet of the standout players such as LT.

This year coming into the regular season the San Diego outfit saw a whole heap of significant changes that have contributed to the running game being at its worst since LT's rookie season.

Take the departure of Michael Turner to the Falcons in the offseason. Many will say that Turner was destined to leave, that he couldn't sit in LT's shadow much longer and look what hes doing in Atlanta, having a breakout season. But Turner's ability brought in a reliable rest bite for LT and gave the running game that extra something which this season they have sorely missed.

However I think perhaps the most significant reason for the faltering running game is the loss of Lorenzo Neal to the Ravens. The Chargers thought that at 37, the veteran fullback had little left to offer the team, how wrong they were.

In losing Neal the Chargers took away Tomlinson's lead blocker, a fullback who was essentially another quicker lineman, who had paved the way for LT's running success in their five-year backfield partnership. Consequently LT has failed to find the same success running behind rookies Tolbert and Hester who don't yet have the same physically presence as the monstrous Neal.

As Schottenheimer mentioned in a recent interview, "I feel bad for some of those guys. LaDainian Tomlinson is taking so much of the blame. I don’t like that."

This blame which LT is shouldering has undoubtedly taken its toll on his performance.I believe that last nights rout of the Oakland Raiders will not only improve team moral, but lift some of this responsibility from LT and improve his performances in the final weeks of the season.

Whilst there is only a fraction of hope that the Chargers will reach the playoffs, I believe that putting together a winning streak in these final weeks can bring out the best in the West Coast team and the best in their Pro Bowl running back. LT is far from done yet.

Watch this space.