L.J. and L.T. Fight for Breakout Game

LaDainian Tomlinson's slow start has mystified his coaches, teammates and fans. Not only is he coming off a season for the ages but he is the only offensive player with experience playing for Norv Turner. One person who can empathize with Tomlinson is Larry Johnson, another Pro Bowler whose rushing average is under the 3-yard mark.

Larry Johnson is aware of every more LaDainian Tomlinson makes. Johnson usually plays in the early games, allowing him to watch Tomlinson headline the late game bracket. Johnson uses Tomlinson's success as a benchmark for all of his career goals, be they in yards, touchdowns or dollars.

"I watched him when he broke the record for touchdowns. I watch LT all the time because he usually plays after me so I can watch him," Johnson said. "And of course I watch the tapes when he plays against the Broncos and Raiders and I have an interest in LaDainian. I can feel and understand what he's going through right now."

Johnson and Tomlinson are both wearing bulls-eyes on their backs but for very different reasons. Tomlinson is a marked man after dominating the highlight reels in his MVP season. Johnson sees similar defense attention because his team has yet to develop its passing attack.

The extra attention has left both players limited. Along with the sub-numbers comes an overwhelming level of frustration.

"I think he feels the same way I feel," Johnson said. "We both know we're good running backs in this league and have a lot more to offer our respective ball clubs so I understand that he's going through the same thing I'm going through. He's trying to find out why things are going the way they are and try to fix them as much as possible."

Both players will be hard pressed to get untracked on Sunday. Tomlinson faces a Chiefs defense that ranks No. 13 in the league in opponent's rushing average (3.8 yards). Additionally, the Chiefs have held Tomlinson under 70 yards rushing in three of their last four meetings.

Johnson may have it even tougher. The Chargers rushing defense is ranked in the top-10 and is anchored by two-time Pro Bowler Jamal Williams. While Williams occupies blockers up front, Shawne Merriman flows to the ball and delivers crushing hits, like the one that likely ended Priest Holmes' career.

"I have great respect for Shawne Merriman," Johnson said. "He grew up in Maryland and I grew up in Maryland. He plays with the same type of intensity that you see. Shawne and I became good friends at different events and I like to watch him play because he brings an excitement to the game that you usually don't see from a young linebacker playing against 12- and 11-year veterans."

When Johnson and Tomlinson go head to head in week four, one will leave with a 2-2 record and playoff aspirations in tact. For the other, a season of frustrations and disappointments will stretch at least one week longer.

Lightning Quick: The Chargers have released tight end Carlton Brewster from the practice squad and replaced him with wide receiver Mark Simmons. Simmons was originally signed by the Bolts as an undrafted free agent after the 2006 NFL Draft. He spent two training camps with the Chargers but has yet to crack the active roster.

Simmons was the leading receiver on the Kansas squad in 2006, catching 44 balls for 631 yards and four touchdowns. He also added nine punt returns, averaging 12.2 per return.


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