2006 NFL MVP and current Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson looks like a lock to go into the Hall of Fame one day. He was at Mission Viejo High School in California on Friday hosting an event on behalf of Gatorade's G Series, which educates student athletes on proper hydration and nutrition. After the event, he was kind enough to speak with me on the phone for a bit to answer my questions.
John B: What are you up to today?
LaDainian Tomlinson: I'm here at Mission Viejo High School with Gatorade. It's part of their G Series Pro Athlete Performance Clinic. What we're doing here is just educating the kids about the important role nutrition and hydration and all that stuff plays in your performance. It's going well.
Join me after the jump for the complete interview.
JB: What are your thoughts on the lockout?
LT: I think we're in a position right now as players to stick together like never before. With all of the times there have been lockouts before, this is the time for our generation, and I think we have to step up ourselves as players. I think the owners are doing the same thing. They feel like they need to step up and hold their ground for what they believe in. It's been a long and grueling battle. I really don't think anything is going to get done until we're approaching training camp.
JB: What made you choose the Jets over the Vikings last year when you were a free agent?
LT: It was a feeling I had. I felt like it was a better fit for me to go to the Jets. I had some experience with Brian Schottenheimer. The Jets run the same type of offense that I had been in for so long in San Diego. I just felt it was a better fit for me and my family.
JB: It seemed like reading comments from guys in the locker room, there is a real hatred the Jets have for the Patriots which is more personal than it is for other contenders like the Colts and the Steelers. Could you comment on that?
LT: I think it's competitive nature we have as athletes. We play them twice a year. They have always been good. They have championships. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have a great history. It's a sense that you measure yourself against them. If you can beat them and put them out of the Playoffs or win the division, it's a measuring stick. We have a lot of respect for them, but when we play them, we just want to beat them really badly. I think that's all it is. It's a healthy, competitive thing between both teams. I think they feel the same way about us.
JB: When you stay in to pass protect as a running back, do you have a specific guy assigned to you before the play, is it read and react to whom you see rushing, or a combination?
LT: Specific plays tell you who you have. Who you block is by design. The only time you really react is when you see somebody coming free who is about to hit your quarterback. Then you have to react to save your quarterback from taking a hit.
JB: You've had the chance to play with young quarterbacks who developed into top flight guys during your career. Compare Mark Sanchez's development with what you saw from Drew Brees and Philip Rivers.
LT: The biggest difference is that unlike Drew and Philip, Mark had to play right away. He came in and jumped right into the fold after playing for one year at USC. He's had to learn on the go as he's playing from what's he's seeing out there while both Drew and Philip got a chance to sit, watch somebody else in front of them, and learn in the film room and the practice field and then only later on the playing field. Mark is a unique guy because he hasn't had a lot of experience in big time football, but he's gaining that experience. You can see him growing every single game.
JB: If you had one game to win, would you take Sanchez, Brees, or Rivers?
LT: That's tough. I can't say one or the other. All of those guys have great qualities. All of them are winners. I can't pick one. It's tough.
JB: Recently you said you want to be the best third down back in the league. Is that something the team approached you about, or do you feel like you're at the point of your career where you voluntarily want a reduced role?
LT: The team hasn't approached me. We haven't talked about it at all. I just feel like it's time to take on that role. After ten years, I feel like I still have something left in the tank. I want to do it on third downs.
JB: What happens if you get off to a hot start like you did in 2010, and the coaches tell you they want to ride the hot hand and keep feeding you the ball? Would you discourage that and ask to stay the third down guy?
LT: Obviously, I'm never going to just turn something like that down. I just think what is best for the team is to use Shonn (Greene) and some of the other guys we've got so that I can stay fresh and help attacking opponents through the passing game on third down.
JB: Have you decided whether 2011 will be your last season as a player in the NFL?
LT: I haven't. Not yet. I don't think you can really decide until you get that feeling that it's time. I don't have that feeling yet. I would love to continue to play.
JB: How will you know when you get that feeling that you want to retire?
LT: It's a feeling I'll get when something is pulling me away from football. It's when you don't want to work out anymore. You don't want to practice or feel like sitting in meetings and going through the grind of a full year. You don't want to prepare for different teams week to week.
JB: Some people think Rex Ryan's talk puts extra pressure on his players to back it up. Others say his players must be motivated by having a coach talk them up. How do you feel about it?
LT: I feel like his talk shows confidence in us. It makes us really want to prove him right. If that's the way our coach feels about us, we're going to prove him right. I don't know of any of our guys who feels our coach talks too much. We love the way he feels about us as players.
JB: Did you feel like you were wearing down near the end of the regular season in 2010?
LT: No, I really didn't. Obviously it's a grueling season, but I was gearing up for the Playoffs. I knew the time to make your money is during the Playoffs. That was my mindset. I think that was the team's mindset. You could see they started to try and keep me fresh and use Shonn Greene more and more as the season went along. I thought they used us in the perfect way.
JB: How much do you credit getting Week 17 off against the Bills for your success in the Playoffs?
LT: It definitely helped. I can't say that I wouldn't have had success had I not gotten that week off because I had a mindset and a will to do it. I think it definitely helped, though, having a break before the Playoffs so that week off helped.
JB: Can you describe something you are personally working on with the younger less experienced backs on the team?
LT: One thing you always work on with younger guys is to make sure everybody understands their role on every play. They need to know what the linemen are doing. They need to know what the receivers are doing. They need to know who is blocking who so they know where to run. It's about picking up that football IQ you need to be consistent.
JB: What do you most want people to remember you for as a player?
LT: As a guy who truly had no weaknesses. I want to be remembered as a guy who could do anything you asked him to do. A guy who could run inside the tackles, outside the tackles, catch it, block, a team guy. I want people to think of me as a guy you could leave on the field to do everything.
JB: Why do you wear a visor on your helmet?
LT: It's something I've always done. I've maintained that look over time. It became a part of who I am. I want it to show the kind of bravado you have to have to succeed playing the sport.
Many thanks to LaDainian for making this happen.