FORT WORTH, Texas -- LaDainian Tomlinson is enjoying the extended summer break from the rigors of minicamp and other offseason activities. After 10 NFL seasons, the New York Jets running back has been able to spend more time with family and a nearly year-old son while resting his body.
That doesn't mean Tomlinson hasn't been on the football field during the NFL lockout.
Tomlinson has participated in two minicamp-like sessions with his Jets teammates, one in California and another in New Jersey. He was back Monday for the start of Camp LT, his annual event for kids at TCU, where he was a record-setting running back before the San Diego Chargers drafted him fifth overall in 2001.
When kids ask Tomlinson if there will be NFL games this season, his answer is: "Yes. Yes, we will play."
While he hasn't yet thought about whether or not the labor situation will be settled to start training camp on time, he expects to be thinking differently about that soon.
"It's a time clock on my body, and I promise you as you get closer to August, you start feeling like hitting. That's just what it is for football players," Tomlinson said. "I've been at the point where I'm like, 'Oh, I'm good. Working out, everything's good.' I am starting to get a little eager to hit people and kind of to get hit maybe."
Tomlinson said the workouts with Jets teammates helped them get back in the swing of things and that quarterback Mark Sanchez was like a coach helping install plays.
Still, it's a strange summer not being around outspoken Jets coach Rex Ryan.
"It's been kind of boring actually. He always has a way of keeping it interesting, to say the least," Tomlinson said. "The things you guys hear Rex say, he's said to us already. ... We hear it every day. Every day, we have to hear it. It works. His style of coaching definitely works."
Tomlinson likes the idea of going into his 11th NFL season as primarily a third-down running back and letting youngster Shonn Greene take a lot more carries. Tomlinson believes he showed last year when he got to the Jets that he could have an important role on the team.
Though he had a career-low 219 carries, Tomlinson still rushed for 914 yards and six touchdowns, and he also caught 52 passes for 368 yards for a team that made it to the AFC Championship Game and oh-so-close to his first Super Bowl.
"I think I proved that I can still play and that I've got a lot left," said Tomlinson, who turned 32 last week. "Let me do a lot of the pass catching and the blocking and kind of that third-down role and still be able to take some handoffs. ... Beating up my body, running through there, taking all the carries, and I can run routes, I've proved that."
Tomlinson isn't sure how much longer he will play in the NFL, but he might have enjoyed a perfect career ending had the Jets made it to the Super Bowl last season at Cowboys Stadium, which is just about 20 minutes from TCU and in his home state.
"I was able to kind of taste how close it was. ... It seemed like a dream ending to a fine career," he said. "It didn't work out like that, but at the same time, it lets me know how close I am. I have a heck of a team, great coaching staff, and I expect us to make another push."
So what if the Jets make it this season and he finally gets to play in the Super Bowl?
"Not to say if we win it this year I'm going to retire, because I probably won't," Tomlinson said. "I don't want to put a limit on when I should stop playing. I think it's a feeling you have, but also I don't want to have that feeling of leaving just a tad bit too early and saying, 'Gosh, I wish I could've kept playing another year.' Or hold on too long. It has to be the right exit to the game."
The Jets' scheduled season opener is at home Sept. 11 against the Dallas Cowboys.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press