Green, Tomlinson do double duty
Friday, December 12, 2003
By Dylan B. Tomlinson
Green Bay Packers running back Ahman Green has rushed for 1,463 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson has rushed for 1,260 and nine touchdowns this season.
While both players have had incredible success running the ball this season, the statistics don’t tell the entire story. To be a great back in the NFL these days, it is not nearly enough to be able to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. The league’s best running backs are the ones who are just as dangerous catching the ball as they are running with it.
Never was this more apparent than last weekend when Tomlinson’s abilities as a runner took a backseat to his abilities as a receiver. Tomlinson caught nine passes for 148 yards while rushing for 88 yards. Tomlinson leads San Diego and is seventh in the NFL with 75 receptions this season.
“He’s amazing,” Green Bay running back Tony Fisher said. “They go to him all the time.”
Having a player who leads the team in rushing yards and receptions is a bit of a rarity in the NFL, but it’s nothing new to the Packers. Green, who is second in the league in rushing, also leads the Packers with 47 receptions.
It’s elite company. In addition to Tomlinson and Green, Kansas City’s Priest Holmes is the only other running back to lead his team in receptions.
“The way the game is heading these days, you have to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield,” Tomlinson said. “It helps you as a player if you’re able to do multiple things.”
St. Louis running back Marshall Faulk may be the benchmark for what NFL running backs are trying to become. While injuries have limited Faulk this season, he has caught 80 or more passes the last five seasons and in 1999 became just the second player in NFL history to get 1,000 yards by air and ground. San Francisco’s Roger Craig was the first in 1985.
“(Tomlinson) is in the same class (as Faulk),” Green Bay defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said. “Every time he gets the ball, he’s explosive with it.”
While the New York Giants’ Tiki Barber, Minnesota’s Moe Williams and New Orleans’ Deuce McAllister are also among the league’s top pass-catching backs, there is a lot of mutual admiration among running backs who are able to effectively do both duties.
“Ahman has been a very consistent back the last few years and he doesn’t get the credit he deserves,” Tomlinson said. “A lot of teams are afraid to face him, so I have a lot of respect for him.”
The similarities between Tomlinson and Green don’t end with their statistics. Neither is considered a big back, as Green is 6-foot and a lean 217 pounds, while Tomlinson is similarly built at 5-10, 220 pounds. Both players are known for their explosive speed and their ability to break the big run.
“He’s one of my favorite guys to watch,” Green said. “He’s definitely one of the best around.”
With Green and Tomlinson on opposing sidelines, the focus will definitely be on each team’s running game Sunday. Neither team has gotten a lot of production out of its quarterback in recent weeks, while Brett Favre hasn’t played his best football because of a broken thumb and San Diego may be making another quarterback shift, as Drew Brees may replace Doug Flutie as the starter.
But regardless of who the quarterbacks are, the most attention is going to be paid to the other guys in the backfield as a big performance by Green or Tomlinson is likely to play the most significant role in which team wins the football game.
“There’s no question these are two of the best backs in the game,” San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer said. “We know going into this game that we’re going to have our hands full trying to stop Green.”
The Packers feel the same way about Tomlinson. They have to try to stop, or slow him. By ground, or by air.
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