He has a special
appreciation for his fullback, whose arrival in San Diego in February 2003 as a
free agent boosted the intensity and professionalism in the Chargers' huddle.
Neal, says Titans coach Jeff Fisher, "understands blocking angles and knows
how to get the right shot on a defender every time, and he brings a certain
toughness to that offense." It didn't take long for Tomlinson to take
notice. "Lo was exactly what I needed--and what we as a team needed,"
Tomlinson says. "He's the most dominant blocker in the game, and the
respect he gets from other players is something that strikes you immediately.
Before every game, when they're running out for warmups, players on the other
team always stop and speak to him. That tells you so much."
One lesson Neal
has reinforced to Tomlinson is that the less glamorous contributions to the
team are often what command the most respect. "We see the sense of urgency
LT has on each and every play," says Shane Olivea, the Chargers' right
tackle. "Then we look at film, and he's blocking a defensive back 20 yards
downfield, after the play is over. People don't realize how many little things
he does, and because of that they don't understand how great he really
Ask Neal his
favorite LT moment, and he takes you into the San Diego huddle during a TV
timeout in the third quarter of the game in Buffalo earlier this month, after
the Bills had scored a pair of touchdowns to close to within three points.
Noticing that a Chargers lineman was conversing with a Buffalo defender,
Tomlinson angrily ordered his teammate to zip it, barking, "Get your butt
back to the huddle. We'll talk to them after the game--after we whip their
Says Neal, "In
the heat of the moment, he's a fierce warrior. You don't want him disappointed.
You think, [The guy I'm blocking] can't make the tackle. You don't want to be
the weak link, the guy who doesn't do his job."
So Neal does what
he must--puts his head down, plows forward, clears a path--and, yard by yard,
gives the rest of us a sight to behold.