SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers' exhibition season starts Saturday night and LaDainian Tomlinson has a simple request -- put me in, coach!
L.T. hasn't played in an exhibition game since 2005, as first Marty Schottenheimer and then Norv Turner chose to keep the star running back on the sideline to avoid injury.
"I want to play," Tomlinson said Monday. "We'll see where that takes us. It's one thing for me to want to play and then it's another thing, the coaches make the decision. We'll see where we end up."
"It's always good to play at home, in front of your home crowd. So I'll leave it at that and let's see what the coaches come up with."
San Diego's other exhibition home game is Sept. 4 against San Francisco.
Tomlinson has gotten used to not even suiting up for exhibition games, which are largely meaningless, even though fans pay regular-season prices. He last played in one on Aug. 21, 2005, when he scored on a 55-yard run on his only carry of the game against the St. Louis Rams.
"I've always asked to play and coach always said no. It's the same. Starting out this year I said if I played, I played. I wasn't going to sit here and ask questions about trying to play and not being able to. I've already said I want to play, obviously."
Tomlinson said it wasn't until he had a conversation with Schottenheimer several years ago that he understood the coach's reasoning.
"I think it comes down to it's a long season, obviously. They want to have me fresh and continue to run hard late in December into January instead of taking carries in the preseason. That's just more pounding on the body," he said.
Tomlinson doesn't think a few carries would make a difference. Starters often are in for one, sometimes two, series in the exhibition opener.
"Then you get to the point where you've seen guys in the preseason getting hurt and missing time in the regular season. That's not something that I worry about, but it does happen sometimes," he said.
Tomlinson is coming off toe and groin injuries that slowed him last year, and some people have wondered what the harm would be in giving him a few carries.
While he starts the regular season fresh by sitting out exhibitions, he's still missing something.
"I think just game tempo is what you lose," Tomlinson said. "What happens is, the first two games it's me getting back into the tempo of getting hit again and the relationship you have to have with your linemen as far as getting in and out of the holes, setting up blocks, making cuts, bursting for speed, taking on tacklers. Those are the things you miss if you don't play preseason."
He's got a point. In the opening two weeks of his eight previous seasons, Tomlinson has run for 100 yards just four times. Two of those came in his first two seasons. He missed most of his rookie training camp in 2001 due to a contract holdout, then ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns in his NFL debut against Washington.
Tomlinson, the NFL's MVP in 2006, hurt his right big toe in last year's opener, but said it didn't have anything to do with not having any carries in the exhibition season. He injured his groin in the regular season finale, was limited in a wild-card playoff win against Indianapolis and didn't play in a divisional-round loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh. It was the first time he missed a game due to injury.
Turner doesn't seem inclined to call L.T.'s number.
"I haven't thought about it, no," the coach said. "He's an awfully good player and he's getting a lot of good work out here."
When told that L.T. wanted to play, Turner just said: "Yeah."
"They used to say, 'Emmitt Smith is not playing tonight,' and I'd get mad and walk out of the room because I wanted to see him play. Now I'm in that position and I'm pretty sure kids do the same thing in preseason games when I don't play. So I do understand it. It is a tough feeling to let down fans, but at the same time, they're going to get all the show they want in the regular season."
NOTES: Kynan Forney, penciled in as the starting right guard, was down for several minutes because of a stinger in his neck after getting hit by outside linebacker Shaun Phillips in the afternoon practice. The rookie pushing for the same job, Louis Vasquez, remains out due to a left foot injury, although he has shed a protective boot. ... Rookie Larry English (hamstring) was back but cornerback Eric Weddle (ankle) remains out.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press