RENTON, Wash. – As he bolted off the line of scrimmage, Terrell Owens tried to “shock release” stout cornerback Brandon Browner by crashing into the defender then disengaging and breaking into the open.
Browner, who was a Pro Bowler last year for Seattle, wasn’t having any of it. He refused to let Owens free and rode the pass catcher with the second-most receiving touchdowns in NFL history hard into the turf.
Welcome back to the NFL, T.O.
“I was just extra excited to be going up against him,” Browner later said.
Owens returned to an NFL practice field for the first time since late in the 2010 season on Wednesday when he jogged on to the field at Seahawks headquarters about 10:15 a.m. with a throng of media waiting to document every move the five-time All-Pro and now 38-year-old made on his first day back in the NFL.
There were highlights — a long catch down the sideline during one team drill. There were also humbling moments when he couldn’t break loose of Browner and got a facemask full of grass.
In between, Owens, who spoke softly before the large crowd after practice, was gracious about the chance he was getting with the Seahawks.
“It’s all about for me now being part of something rather than being the center of something. I understand a lot of the media is here because of me and again, I have changed in a lot of ways,” Owens said. “A lot of things have occurred in the last two years and I’ve had a lot of time to think about things and put things in perspective and I just want to move forward and leave all the things that happened five to 10 years ago behind me. That’s where I am mentally.”
Owens is the latest reclamation project being taken on by Seattle coach Pete Carroll, who has found success in his first two seasons with the likes of Browner, Mike Williams and Red Bryant — players once considered on their way out of the league who instead have thrived with the Seahawks.
Whether Owens ends up making a difference will depend on if he makes the team. If his first practice is any indication, Owens at least has a chance.
Despite age showing its sign on his once youthful face, Owens is in tremendous shape. He’s long and lean, fitting the descriptions given by Carroll and other Seahawks personnel following Owens’ workout for the team on Monday. He worked mostly with the No. 2 offense on his first day at flanker and opposite fellow second-chance receiver Braylon Edwards. The starting flanker position belongs to Sidney Rice, but he is being withheld from contact during training camp as he continues recovering from offseason surgery on both shoulders.
Does that mean Owens is being groomed as security for Rice? Not exactly. Wide receiver coach Kippy Brown says it’s just a starting point for Owens as he learns the Seahawks offense and eventually the different assignments of each receiver position.
“It’s obvious he’s been working. He may not have been practicing football with the whole team, but he’s been working,” Brown said. “He’s in phenomenal shape and he just has to get his football legs up under him.”
Owens spent the entire 2011 season out of football, left to reevaluate his career options following surgery on his left knee. His comeback started this spring playing for the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League. He had 35 catches for 420 yards and 10 touchdowns while playing eight of 11 games, but was released and lost an ownership stake in the team in May.
The chance to play in the IFL might have seemed like desperation, but Owens said it was a critical experience in his comeback. It was the bottom for his football career and a baseline from which to rebuild.
“Just to get around that atmosphere and to know that I was at the top at one point … it’s almost like I have to rebuild my career, start over,” Owens said.
Owens did have a few highlights during his first day. He beat rookie Jeremy Lane down the sideline and caught a perfect toss from Matt Flynn for a 35-yard reception, juggling the ball briefly before pulling it in to his stomach as he fell to the ground. He followed that with a quick slant across the middle on another strike from Flynn.
“Once you get out there and you snap the ball and you’re going against the defense, you just see a helmet running out there,” Flynn said. “You’re not thinking this is T.O. or whatever, you get out there and see a receiver and getting open.”
The concern with signing Owens is that it goes against most of the moves Seattle (No. 22 in AP Pro32) has made during the first two years of Carroll and general manager John Schneider being in charge. They made a dramatic point to get the Seahawks locker room younger and on giving those youthful players a chance even if they lacked major experience.
There’s also the well-documented baggage from Owens’ past. Owens repeatedly said he’s different from the receiver that made headlines for his disruptions in some previous stops.
“The last two years have been life-changing for myself,” Owens said. “I don’t want to try and sit up here and emphasize how much I’ve changed. I think you’ll kind of see that as these days go along. It’s more about actions speak louder than words, and I think you’ll see that more than anything.”
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