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Jets' Tomlinson looking like L.T. of old

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- LaDainian Tomlinson stood in front of his teammates on the Jets' offense and spoke passionately about hard work, dedication and the desire to be No. 1.

It got everyone in the room fired up -- including Rex Ryan, who knows a thing or two about motivational speeches.

So, after the running back was done, the coach had him walk down the hall to deliver the same message to the defense.

"It was powerful listening to a guy that's worked his entire career and came here, dedicated himself to his teammates, and he's chasing the same thing everyone else is," Ryan said. "It was from the heart, and it really meant something to everybody."

The 31-year-old Tomlinson has all the accolades and awards any player could want -- except a Super Bowl ring. That's one of the reasons the seventh-leading rusher in NFL history decided to come to New York after nine pro seasons.

This, he believes, can be the chance he has been waiting for since bursting into the league with San Diego in 2001.

"I think this team has the opportunity, really and truly, more than any other team," he said, "to win a championship."

That's why Tomlinson felt the need to remind everyone of the big picture and what they need to get there. He's got a copy of Vince Lombardi's "What It Takes to Be No. 1" speech hanging in his home, and Tomlinson shared it with his teammates and coaches.

"I stood in front of the guys and said, 'Guys, we talk about being No. 1, we hear our coach talk about some of these things. This is something Vince Lombardi talked about years ago,'" he said. "'So, if we want to be No. 1, these are the things it's going to take.' That was pretty much the gist of the conversation."

Healthy and happy, Tomlinson is doing his part, through four games, to help put the Jets (3-1) on the right path. With every big run, flashing the same scintillating moves that made him one of the league's most exciting players, he's proving wrong the doubters who said he had nothing left.

"This is a challenge to me," he said, "and I'm going to step up to it."

When Tomlinson signed with the Jets in the offseason, it was believed he would be a complementary part of the offense. He has been so much more, leading the team with 341 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Tomlinson also is tied for second with 12 catches for 82 yards.

"They're inspired by watching him play," Ryan said. "It's hard not to be."

His presence has been felt off the field, too, quickly establishing himself as a team leader.

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"I just remember having dinner and hanging with him," quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "I was like, 'Man, this guy, I feel like I've known him for 10 years.' He's that kind of person and someone you want on your team. You're picking a team, he's one of the first guys you pick, so we're thrilled to have him. We're pretty lucky."

Despite everything he accomplished in nine seasons with the Chargers, Tomlinson had only two teams pursue him in the offseason: the Jets and Minnesota.

"It was never really close," Tomlinson said. "Obviously, my wife had a lot to do with it. I'm just being honest with you."

His wife was equally blunt, telling LT: "I don't want to go to Minnesota."

There was more to it, of course, mostly about what Tomlinson's role would be. He got the sense the Vikings needed someone to fill the role of the departed Chester Taylor as Adrian Peterson's backup. With the Jets, he said Ryan told him he would get the opportunity to play -- no defined role. He also had a previous relationship with Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who was a coach with the Chargers from 2002 to '05.

"For me, that was a comfort part, knowing I had just came out of this offense for the past nine years and he was running basically the same offense," Tomlinson said. "In Minnesota, it was all about learning a whole new, different offense. I also felt like that would kind of put me behind the 8-ball, just learning a new offense at this point and time in my career."

Tomlinson gets a chance Monday night to show the Vikings -- and everyone else who wouldn't give him a shot in the offseason -- what they're missing.

"I know they made a play to get him here, and it makes a lot of sense," Vikings quarterback Brett Favre said. "I know what he is capable of. In my mind, he could have done those things here. He's running the ball great, but he's probably even more of a threat catching the ball out of the backfield. I have seen no decline, not one bit."

Tomlinson was selected as the AFC's Offensive Player of the Week after running for 133 yards and two touchdowns in the Jets' 38-14 win last Sunday over the Buffalo Bills. On his 26-yard scoring run, he nearly shook Bills safety Donte Whitner out of his shoes -- flashing some vintage L.T. moves.

"It was gratifying because all of those things just build confidence for me when things like that happen," he said with a smile. "But, honestly, I knew it was there. It was about having the opportunity to do it."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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