When the Denver Broncos visit the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, one running back who excelled as a rookie in 2000 will meet a rookie rusher excelling in 2001.
For Denver, Mike Anderson enters his second season after finishing fourth in the NFL with a rookie-best 1,487 rushing yards in 2000. His total tied for the fifth best in league history by a rookie. Anderson also ranked second in the league with 15 touchdown runs _ tied for second-most ever by a rookie.-
San Diego boasts rookie La Dainian Tomlinson, who ranks second in the NFL with a rookie-high 486 rushing yards and is tied for the league lead with seven touchdown runs. Tomlinson, who trails NFL rushing leader Curtis Martin of the New York Jets by only 30 yards, could become the first rookie to lead the league in rushing yards and touchdown runs since Jim Brown in 1957 (942 yards and nine scoring runs).
Clearly, both players made and are making an impact as rookies. But the similarities end there. Consider:
· Anderson was a sixth-round draft choice (189th overall) in 2000. Tomlinson was the fifth overall selection in 2001.
· Anderson began his rookie season at age 26. Tomlinson was (and is) 22 when he took his first handoff.
· Anderson rushed for 2,404 yards and 24 touchdowns in his final two college seasons. Tomlinson had 4,008 yards and 40 touchdowns in his last two collegiate campaigns.
CBS-TV analyst Marcus Allen, who played more games than any running back in NFL history (222) over his 16-year career, says that both players are extremely effective, albeit in different ways.
"Mike, in his limited time of playing, has shown a tremendous amount of skill and knowledge of how to run in the Broncos' offense," says Allen, who ranks second all-time with 123 touchdown runs and seventh with 12,243 rushing yards. "He has shown that he has the ability to be a very productive back. Imagine if he played football when he was a kid (Anderson did not play high school football, and joined the U.S. Marines after high school)."
Allen notes that Anderson's background may have been a help. "With his time in the military, he understands discipline," Allen says. "With the things he has gone through in the Marines, the challenges of the NFL probably pale in comparison. I'm sure there were demands placed on him in the military which made playing in the NFL easy."
And while Allen describes Anderson as "a big, strong, powerful, slashing runner with very deceptive moves," he sees a different type of talent in Tomlinson.
"LaDainian is a little Barry Sanders, a little Emmitt Smith," Allen says. "He has all the physical tools to be a great back. I look at him and - barring injury - I see a guy who could break all the records for rushing yards and touchdowns. He has that kind of skill."
Allen and Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown, who led the NFL in rushing eight times in his nine seasons, agree on Tomlinson's abilities.
"When we first saw him, Jim and I looked at each other and laughed," says Allen. "We tried to find one word that defines players like him. The key word is `rare.' He has all the tools and the intangibles to make him a very special back."