NFL Network Analyst and former NFL running back LaDainian Tomlinson knows Saints QB Drew Brees and RB Darren Sproles as well as anybody.
Tomlinson and Brees were friends in high school, both were Heisman Trophy finalists in 2000 and both were taken by the San Diego Chargers in the 2001. Brees and Tomlinson were in San Diego together until 2005 before Brees signed with the Saints in 2006.Tomlinson and Sproles were teammates in San Diego from 2005 to 2009. Tomlinson joined the Jets in 2010 and Sproles signed with the Saints in 2011.
"Drew and Darren were great teammates," said Tomlinson. "The one thing I knew about Drew is that I could never question his work ethic and his determination to win. I could never question that, because he always showed me with how hard he worked and how much he wanted it.
"Darren is a guy that is not going to say much, but the guy works so hard in practice and in the weight room that his dedication is there."
Since joining the Saints, Brees has thrown for 4,000 or more yards each of his seven seasons with the club. He became the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in three different seasons, setting the league's single-season yardage mark in 2011.
The thing that impresses Tomlinson the most about Brees is that 13 years into his career, his NFL draft classmate is still at the top of his game.
"He approaches the offseason like it's in season," said Tomlinson. "He always has a plan for what he wants to work or improve at. We use to work out together so I know the kind of work he puts in. I credit his longevity to that. He takes care of his body and he is always in shape.
"He always challenges himself in the film room. Then in the offseason, he will go out on the field throwing in a park or at a high school performing like it's a game-like situation. He is going through routes, the play fakes, and he is dropping back and moving in the pocket. It's almost like he is playing a game on the practice field. That is why he is so good every year."
In Sproles' first season as a Saint in 2011, he earned an NFL record 2,696 all-purpose yards. In 13 games with six starts in 2012, he carried 48 times for 244 yards (5.1 avg.) with one touchdown and had 75 receptions for 667 yards (8.9 avg.) with seven touchdowns, to lead NFL running backs in receiving.
Tomlinson said nobody matches Sproles unique skill set in the NFL.
"I honestly don't think there is any area Darren needs to improve on, because he has proven that he can play all positions," said Tomlinson. "He can line up wide, he can line up in the backfield and he can return kicks. He has gotten the best out of his abilities. What he came into the league to do, he has done it as well as anybody could ask him to do."
Tomlinson retired from the NFL in June 2012 after 11 storied seasons. The former Chargers and Jets running back ranks fifth all-time with 13,684 rushing yards and second in rushing touchdowns with 145.
Tomlinson said he is enjoying his time as an analyst. The future Hall of Famer still keeps in touch with Brees and Sproles and says the two are still driven by the same trait – an unquenchable desire to succeed.
"They are two guys with different demeanors off the field yet share that same work ethic and desire on the field," said Tomlinson. "They are both true leaders. The Saints are very lucky to have them."