LaDainian Tomlinson + Preseason Games = Bad Idea

Michael Scarr@@scarrpmContributor IAugust 12, 2009

SAN DIEGO - NOVEMBER 30:  Running back LaDainian Tomlinson #21 of the San Diego Chargers carries the ball against the Atlanta Falcons on November 30, 2008 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California.  The Falcons won 22-16.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The word is LT wants to play in the preseason.

The question is, why?

What could possibly be gained by the team's best running back and arguably best player participating in a glorified practice?

The flip side, of course, is what could be lost. If Tomlinson were to suffer an injury, major or otherwise, in a meaningless football game, that could very well be the end of his career.

It also would lead to repeated rounds of finger-pointing and a few well-articulated expletives.

So again, the question is, why?

Apparently, the answer is a simple one: LT wants to. In fact, the current franchise icon brings up the subject every August, and repeatedly, at least over the last few seasons, his head coaches have acted responsibly.

Marty Schottenheimer routinely nixed the idea and Norv Turner has yet to allow Tomlinson to take a snap during the annual round of exhibitions.

Sure, the last time LT touched the ball in a practice game in front of a paying audience was 2005, when he scampered 55 yards for a score.

But that, and $8.50 will get you a cup of Miller Lite at the Q.

So, aside from getting a Saturday night crowd on its feet and raising the stress level of every Chargers coach along the sideline and up in the booth, it amounted to nothing.

Which brings us to this Saturday, when the Chargers host the Seahawks for the club's first preseason game of 2009.

LT told reporters after morning practice this past Monday, that he wouldn't rule out playing an exhibition game this season. He also said he'd prefer playing at home.

That makes two options: Saturday, and Sept. 4 in Mission Valley against the Niners in the preseason finale.

The fourth game is out.

With 10 days to prepare for the season opener in Oakland, you can scratch LT's name from the A-list, along with most of the starters for that one.

His desire to play at home strikes the second and third games on the practice slate, which are both on the road.

That leaves Saturday, and still leaves unanswered the concept of exposing an extremely valuable piece of the Chargers' 2009 season to unnecessary contact.

Turner, for his part, has revealed nothing and simply offered that he would not rule out the possibility of LT playing.

He also doesn't need to be reminded of what little there is to gain and how much he can lose.

The Chargers' offense this season will be piloted by Philip Rivers and an ever-improving receiving corps, one that could easily rival any in the AFC if Vincent Jackson takes his step toward a No. 1 as expected.

Turner will likely get running back Darren Sproles more involved, and the return of linebacker Shawne Merriman to the defensive side of the ball should make a talented group under coordinator Ron Rivera truly formidable.

A productive LT will make everyone's job easier, with a strong possibility of a February 2010 date in Miami as the result.

It is LT's job to play, and his willingness to suit up for a halfback toss or two is admirable, especially when there are customers that are being absolutely fleeced by the NFL to pay regular season prices to watch a scrimmage.

By next season, holding a player out of a meaningless game may not be an option if the league expands to 18 games and reduces the exhibition slate.

It's yet another bad idea, as more games will certainly mean more injuries to key players. The product won't be better; there will just be more of it.

Coaches then will be faced with the task of when to sit key players and do it in games that count in the standings. But that is next year's problem.

On Saturday, Turner will see that engaging smile and listen to LT as he lobbies to add to his 14 career preseason carries.

He'll picture one of this decade's most exciting players cutting back on a signature run, maybe even reaching the end zone.

Turner will also flash on the horrible possibility of a blindside hit, a leg caught in the pile, or something as simple as slipping on a loose piece of sod.

Turner will then hear the voice in his head: Just say no.


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