MIAMI -- The voice on the other end of the phone was that of Lorenzo Neal. He sounded like a kid on Christmas morning, breathlessly talking about the great gift he had gotten from Santa Claus.
"You're getting 'The Great One' in New York," Neal told The Post yesterday about the Jets' free agent signing of LaDainian Tomlinson. "The Jets are bringing in a guy that has that 'It Factor,' but someone who's a student of the game and is a worker. And he's a better man than a football player."
Neal should know. The fullback, a 16-year NFL veteran who was one of the most bruising blockers of his era, cleared rushing lanes for Tomlinson in San Diego, where the two played together for five years and became close friends.
'FULL' OF PROMISE: Lorenzo Neal, who spent five years clearing lanes for LaDainian Tomlinson (above), said the Jets are bringing in a veteran who has that "It Factor."
Neal, in fact, was one of Tomlinson's confidants while the Jets and Vikings recruited Tomlinson last week and was a strong voice in favor of Tomlinson going to the Jets.
Tomlinson will not only make the Jets better on the field, Neal said, but he'll have a profound effect on them inside the locker room.
"When LT comes into that locker room the Jets are getting a leader," Neal said. "Is LT as good as he was? No he's not. But he's better than 70 or 80 percent of the backs in the league. Let's be real: He's not the guy he was when he first came into the league, but he still has it."
Neal was critical of the way the Chargers used Tomlinson the last two seasons and believes that's a big reason his production waned.
"It's like having a dog who's always allowed to get outside the fence and terrorize and whip the other dogs on the block and when you keep that dog on the chain that dog dies a little bit when he loses that ability to roam a little bit," Neal said. "Those last couple of years in San Diego, look how quickly those guys were able to destroy [Tomlinson]. They became a finesse team. Norv [Turner, the Chargers' head coach] wanted to throw the ball and run it just to run it when he wasn't throwing it.
"The playoff game is a prime example," Neal said, referring to the Chargers' loss to the Jets in which Tomlinson rushed for 24 yards on 12 carries. "All of a sudden, Norv wanted to run the ball. You want to run a guy who's been on a chain and been caged up all season behind an offensive line that's been caged up and hadn't bowed their heads and run the ball all season?
"Running the ball is an attitude. San Diego stopped running the ball and when they took that out of San Diego, the team changed its direction. That hurt [Tomlinson]."
Neal said he recommended the Jets all the way in his talks with Tomlinson because of their commitment to running the ball.
"Now he's in a place where he knows they have a running game with a purpose," Neal said. "This guy will fly; I think he's going to fly. He's been backed into a corner like a caged cat and he's going to scratch and fight."
Neal said Tomlinson's "biggest impact" to the Jets will be in the passing game with his receiving skills out of the backfield. That was an area of significant weakness last year, particularly after Leon Washington was lost for the season with a broken right leg.
Jets running backs combined for only 36 receptions all last season. Washington's 15 catches led all backs -- and he missed the final nine games.
"Running those quick crossing routes and he's such a precise runner he's going to be killing those linebackers," Neal said of Tomlinson.
Neal, too, was ecstatic about Tomlinson going to the Jets because he wanted him to be in New York.
"LT has been put on the biggest stage," Neal said. "What a place, what an opportunity for him to use these last two years of his career to further his legacy. He's going to a team that believes in him, believes in running the ball with an offensive coordinator [Brian Schottenheimer] who he knows and a great head coach in Rex Ryan. He couldn't have asked for a better script."
What does Lorenzo Neal know? Fatscessa declared LT dead. End of story. ;)
Seriously, it will be a very interesting experiment with considerable up side. Worst we get is TJ. Best we get is a versatile veteran back who can do more than TJ and may indeed surprise the morticians who have buried him prematurely...
some nice points. we went from jones-washington-greene to greene-tomlinson/washington?(new rb).
so we may end up only keeping greene but after last season which RB would you rather keep the most? personally, i go with greene and tomlinson does indeed add a new dimension to our offense and surrounds our rookie qb with another option to throw to. We lose Jones' toughness for sure, it's a gamble but every move is a gamble soo idk i'm liking the tomlinson move.
Sign Coles, trade Eric Smith, Brad Smith, & a 2011 6th to the Broncos for Brandon Marshall and your offense just became deep & scary.