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Aging NFL stars look to make impact
Question of the Day
Step in to the NFL’s Last Chance Saloon and look around. There’s an impressive array of talent on display this season.
LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson, making perhaps their last dashes in new locales: LT with the Jets, LJ with the Redskins.
Wideouts Terrell Owens, Joey Galloway and Antwaan Randle El doing their last dances at new addresses. Quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Matt Hasselbeck with visions of returning to Super Bowl quality, and QBs who barely have reached starting caliber, yet are at a career crossroads: Matt Leinart and Trent Edwards.
Dozens of players are on the spot: Show you can still do the job, or get out of the way for someone younger, stronger, faster, and possibly cheaper.
“I feel confident about myself and what I can still do on the football field even at the age of 36,” says Owens, who joined his third team in three years _ and fifth overall _ when he signed with the Bengals. “There’s no turning back or going back or redoing anything.”
Ah, but that’s sort of what these players must do to avoid becoming endangered species _ rekindle the talents that made them stars. With the exception of the unproven quarterbacks, nearly all of them have Pro Bowl appearances on their resumes.
Alongside those impressive achievements now stand hefty question marks. Has Tomlinson lost a step? Or several steps? Can Washington’s Galloway still go deep? Can Jamal Williams handle double teams in the trenches, allowing Broncos linebackers an easy path to the ball? Are Alan Faneca and Jon Jansen effective and versatile blockers any more? Is the Colts’ Adam Vinatieri, perhaps the best clutch kicker in NFL history, still reliable?
So many doubts. So many critics.
“People can write down whatever they want,” says linebacker/DE Jason Taylor, who somehow has landed in Jets green despite being among the most despised players that team’s fans have ever rooted against. “I’ve always kind of had that chip on my shoulder throughout my career. People have always said I couldn’t do things. … It’s dependent on me now to go out and help this team any way I can.”
And there are plenty of believers among the likes of LT and Taylor.
“The thing, honestly, about Tomlinson is if he’s coming down, he’s coming down from the very top of the mountain,” Jets coach Rex Ryan says of the 31-year-old running back, who was setting records and winning MVP awards as recently as 2006. “It’s not like he was three-quarters of the way coming down.”
But Tomlinson no longer is a dominant back and will share time with second-year tailback Shonn Greene. LT might wind up with more action in the passing game than as a runner.
Johnson was among the few rivals for Tomlinson among NFL backs when LJ was in Kansas City. He’s now part of a crowded backfield in Washington, which might be a good thing considering the wear on his body from carrying the Chiefs’ offense for years.
Johnson has not been an elite player for four seasons, in part because of injuries, in part because of attitude. Yet he’s still around. Why?
“Because I’m not finished doing what I was supposed to do yet,” he says. “My body’s still fresh and young. When you hit 30, that’s when people who sit on the couch … give up on the things that they can do, they used to do when they were 21.
By Robert N. Tracci
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