For athletes that come to New York, it's a case of when, not if, they first catch the back of the hand from one of the local tabloids. Randy Johnson got it on his first day as a Yankee when he got in a fracas with a photographer while it took Brett Favre the better part of his lone Jets season before he became a punching bag for every writer in town.
LaDainian Tomlinson lasted a bit longer than the Big Unit, but didn't get the same benefit of the doubt extended to Favre. In Sunday's Post, Bart Hubbuch lit into the veteran running back in a piece headlined "Face Facts, Jets, LaDainian is Pretty Much LaDone." Hubbuch rehashes how worn down Tomlinson looked at the end of last season and in the playoffs before sharing his throughts on how Tomlinson looked during minicamp.
"Even without pads or contact, it didn't take a grizzled NFL scout to notice in the Jets' recent workouts that Tomlinson just doesn't look like the same player who terrified opposing defenses with his slippery moves and sublime hands for nine seasons with the Chargers. ... If that role is any bigger than a handful of carries per game while Tomlinson provides locker-room leadership and tutors Shonn Greene and rookie third-down back Joe McKnight, then the Jets aren't headed back to the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl."
We're not going to contradict anything Hubbuch thinks or writes because each man is certainly entitled to his opinion. We will simply point out that making a sweeping judgment on a player during non-contact drills is sort of like judging Picasso on the way he paints a house. Both things involve paint but one involves a lot more of the person doing the work than the other.
Tomlinson's name seems to have made people assume that he'll be playing a certain role in the Jets offense, a role that doesn't seem to have much bearing to the one that the Jets have in mind for him this season. They desperately missed a safety valve out of the backfield for Mark Sanchez after Leon Washington's injury in 2009 and Tomlinson is a much better fit for that role than Greene or the departed Thomas Jones.
Only a fool would argue that Tomlinson is the same back he was during the salad days of his career. It would take the same kind of fool to keep talking about Tomlinson when it is Greene who will be the real determining factor for how well the Jets running game does in 2010. If Greene isn't up to the task, it won't much matter what Tomlinson brings to the table while Tomlinson's contributions are always going to be complementary to Greene's.
Will it work? An unanswerable question, obviously, and Hubbuch should have kept that in mind when crafting his opinion about Tomlinson's ability to help the Jets with such certitude. As we said, he's entitled to that opinion. Relying on the way a guy looks during offseason workouts rather than the scheme, the offensive line and the dozens of other factors that determine success and failure for NFL running back is an awfully lazy way to go about it, though.