Maybe LaDainian Tomlinson no longer can pound out the 1,000-yard rushing seasons, but that's not why the Jets acquired him in the offseason. He was a workhorse with the Chargers, but LT figures to be the Jets' third-down back and a real go-to receiver for second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez.
The early signs are promising. The first time Sanchez threw to Tomlinson in training camp, it went for a 70-yard touchdown, and they combined for a key first-down pass Monday to set up the Jets' first touchdown against the Giants.
Quarterback coach Matt Cavanaugh confirmed that Tomlinson essentially will replace Leon Washington, who went down with a season-ending injury in the seventh game last year, depriving Sanchez of a safety-valve receiver he desperately needed. "I feel good about he and Shonn Green," Cavanaugh said of the top two running backs, "but LT is more explosive. He's tough to cover coming out of the backfield.
"You don't go from a 54 percent completion percentage to 65 percent by throwing to the wide receivers that much more. Mark is aware of that."
Sanchez completed 53.8 percent of his passes last season while throwing 20 interceptions because he often tried for too much downfield. He frankly admitted after today's morning practice at Cortland that he's had to learn more patience at the NFL level. "I've always been of the school of thought I'd rather throw it downfield and not have to hold myself back rather than be someone that throws it underneath all the time and then has to figure it out when he throws it downfield," Sanchez said. "[But the checkdown receiver] will make you right, and you just have to give them the ball."
Cavanaugh said much of the offseason was spent dissecting the reasons for Sanchez's low completion percentage. A lot of it had to do with the fact that Washington only was around long enough to lead the Jets with 15 catches out of the backfield.
"When you're a stubborn rookie and trying to make plays down the field and forcing things, you don't see that," Sanchez said. "The coaches did a study. They looked up the top five offenses in the last six years. All the quarterbacks had a back with 40-plus catches. That was basically the cutoff.
"It really opened it up to me. They're getting screen passes during the first progression sometimes, but the bulk of those are checkdowns [where the QB dumps off when his wideouts are covered]. You give him a chance and space, and it really gives you the opportunity to get a great third-down percentage and helps your completion percentage. That's going to be a key part of our success."
So, there you have it. The over-under for pass receptions by Tomlinson this season is 40. If he reaches or surpasses that number, all of Sanchez's passing numbers will improve accordingly.