Rivers, L.T. Answer Critics at Mini Camp

RB LaDainian Tomlinson (Chris Park/AP)

LaDainian Tomlinson was back before the media, talking about water under the bridge and riding a wave which hopefully places the Chargers in Tampa, Fla., for the Super Bowl. The rough waters originated during last season's AFC championship game. L.T. was forced to the bench after four plays when his sprained knee was unable to respond.

The response from some regarding LaDainian Tomlinson wasn't kind. Tomlinson stayed on the bench nearly the entire game, never removing his helmet. Some saw that as a sign as pouting.

"It was disappointing, but critics are going to be critics, and that's just all part of it," Tomlinson said. "You can't expect everybody to be on your side. It don't matter how much you've done or what you've done. There's always somebody that's looking to criticize you."

The Chargers' front office and Tomlinson's teammates had no problems with Tomlinson that day. They've seen him play through injuries with far less at stake that the franchise's second Super Bowl ever.

So while some talking heads -- Deion Sanders in particular -- felt as if it was open season on Tomlinson's reputation, those knowing never doubted he was seriously hurt.

"I don't think anybody on this team would ever second-guess his dedication and loyalty to this organization or his work ethic," team president Dean Spanos said. "The guy was hurt. He was really hurt and couldn't play. He tried and he just couldn't do it. I don't know what more you could have expected from anybody."

What's expected this year is much the same as last -- the Chargers making a stout run at another deep run in the playoffs.

To that end, Chargers fans were ecstatic to see Tomlinson out making cuts and turning corners during the recent minicamp, showing no signs of the sprained medial collateral ligament which sidelined him that frigid day in New England.

Along with Tomlinson practicing during minicamp was quarterback Philip Rivers. He's bouncing back from a knee injury more serious than Tomlinson's.

"We both wanted to come out and get some work in," Tomlinson said. "I think we are both happy with just coming out here and running around."

Let others judge Tomlinson's dedication to the game and his teammates. Those inside the Chargers' locker room have said that Tomlinson would never leave them stranded.

"He's just a down-to-earth person," said fullback Andrew Pinnock. "At the level he's at, he could easily (keep) to himself or be selfish or not really care what's going on. But you can talk to him about anything. He doesn't isolate himself.

"People don't see that side. People just see, 'OK, he didn't play in the AFC championship game, he's selfish, he let the team down.' But we as a team know what was really going on. When he wasn't in the game, we knew that there was something wrong."

PLAYER NOTES

--C Nick Hardwick doesn't sound very optimistic about being ready for the season-opener after undergoing foot surgery in March. He's set for another procedure in mid-June for an injury suffered midway through last season. "We'll see," Hardwick said. "You can't speed it up and we'll have to see if it takes more time. But obviously, I'm going to push it."

--Fifth-round pick RB Marcus Thomas of Texas-El Paso didn't go unnoticed by coach Norv Turner during minicamp. "He's one of those guys, when the pads go on everybody is going to say, 'Wow, look at this guy,'" Turner said. "He's a physical guy and has a good body lean. He's a 215-pound runner and he's been a productive runner, and I expect him to be the same."

--CB Paul Oliver, a second-year pro, is getting some reps at safety.

--OLT L.J. Shelton was excused from the minicamp for a personal matter.

--DL coach Wayne Nunnely was getting around minicamp in a golf cart after having both knees replaced.

--FB Andrew Pinnock still isn't recovered enough from his offseason knee injury to participate in practice. He hopes to be ready for training camp.

--Pro Bowl DT Jamal Williams watched the minicamp workouts after having both knees cleaned out this offseason. He's a go for training camp.

--Special teams star Kassim Osgood, who has squawked about not getting more looks in the offense as a wide receiver, attended minicamp.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "With my blazing speed, it's not going to hinder me too much." -- Slow-footed Chargers QB Philip Rivers, on wearing a brace this season on his surgically repaired right knee.

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