Shutdown Corner

Even in his absence, T.O. is all the talk in Seattle

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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Which T.O. will the Seahawks see? (AP)

RENTON, Wash. -- One day after blowing his new Seattle Seahawks teammates and coaches away with a workout that head coach Pete Carroll called "extraordinary," Terrell Owens was absent from what would have been his first NFL practice in over a year. No, the mercurial receiver wasn't holding out for money or beefing for more reps -- you can put those thoughts to rest, at least for now. The Seahawks signed Owens to a one-year, veteran minimum contract on Monday, and Owens was simply headed back to Los Angeles to get his gear and prepare for his new home. He is expected to join the Seahawks in time for Wednesday morning practice.

For Carroll, who has been looking for the right kind of big receiver in his offense since Mike Williams played through injuries in the 2011 season, that time can't come soon enough.

"The chance to get Terrell is based on a number of things. I've known him for a long time, I was there when he came into San Francisco, and I've known him throughout the years and all he has been through," Carroll said on Tuesday. "I saw him at the start as a young man trying to make the club, right now he is extremely hungry and humble and determined to end his career on a good note, and he wants to be a part of a team and play football.

"As we went through the situation, he was quite clear on what he wants to accomplish and where he was coming from. He is famous for his work ethic and adding that to the team and having guys see what he's like will help everyone this season, I put a lot of pressure on him that he better do good which he will -- I know he will because his workout was great, he was faster than years ago. He has a little chip on his shoulder like all of us do here and that competitiveness in him is something that fits our program and we will see how it goes. I'm not going to tell you how much he's going to play or whatever, because I do not know, but he is in the competition and he makes competition even better for all of us."

Carroll, who probably utters the word "competition" three times before he gets out of bed every morning, needs Owens' best to make his 2012 receiver corps go. Williams was eventually released, and while recent signing Braylon Edwards has looked good in practice, the potential injury situation of top receiver Sidney Rice puts more pressure on a quarterback group that also remains undefined. That's why Carroll took the shot on Owens, who has been rehabbing an injured knee in L.A. and Florida over the last year.

What he's hoping for is a return to the hungry receiver he knew in San Francisco -- Carroll was the 49ers' defensive coordinator in 1996, the same year Owens was selected in the third round out of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Back then, Owens wasn't the prima donna we later saw -- he was soaking up knowledge from all-time great Jerry Rice, and sticking to the veterans on the team like flypaper.

Current Seahawks linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. played for the 49ers from 1994 through 2000 -- his last five years in the NFL were Owens' first five. Norton is now a severe disciplinarian, known for throwing acerbic verbal attacks in the directions of his defensive charges over the slightest mistake. You'd think that the no-nonsense Norton would balk at the Owens addition, but he was completely on board, based on his own recollections of the receiver's early days.

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Ken Norton will help Pete Carroll hope for the best -- and prepare for the worst. (AP)

"T.O. was extremely hard-working and very focused," Norton said of Owens' early time in the NFL. "He had a good surrounding of veterans -- Jerry Rice, Brent Jones, Steve Young -- all these guys around him, and he really did a great job of learning how to be a pro. I was very impressed with him early on. The things I watched him do in those first five years really impressed me -- his work ethic, and his ability to be around Jerry Rice all the time. Jerry Rice was always coming to practice early and leaving late, and Terrell was right with him the whole time. He has a good upbringing.

"When you look at his numbers, he produces. And that's what we're expecting to get."

As for the later drama that Owens produced through several NFL landscapes, Norton was unconcerned -- he knows, as Carroll knows, that this is probably Owens' last NFL shot, and he expected Owens to act accordingly.

"I can't really speak to that and what happened then, because I know what's going on now, and I know what we expect now. It's clear to everybody what their jobs are, and what we need from them. I'm looking forward to being a part of it with him again. He wants to play. We were very impressed with his attitude, and his workout was outstanding."

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December 12, 2010 -- Owens walks off the field after his most recent NFL game. (AP)

For young players like second-year receiver Doug Baldwin, the anticipation is very different -- it's about taking the field with a guy they grew up idolizing. Seattle has several pass-catchers in their early and mid-20s, so that excitement was palatable in speaking with them after Tuesday's practice.

"When he comes in I will get a feel for how he is as a person and as a man, then I will judge for myself," the 2011 undrafted free agent said of his new teammate. "What I enjoyed watching growing up was his dominance on the football field, that is what mattered to me. I took some things that he did on the football field and I tried to translate it to my game. That is me looking up to him, that is me aspiring to be the type of dominant player that Terrell Owens is and probably still will be at 38 years old. So it is really exciting to see."

Baldwin wasn't the only one peering through the knothole on Monday while Owens was working out -- Sidney Rice was also extremely interested to know what the new element might mean to Seattle's offense.

"We are welcoming the guy here," Rice said. "We are not going to talk bad about him. We are going to try to keep him comfortable in the locker room and get him out here on the field as much as possible to make plays for us."

That said, Carroll did enough recon work before the Monday workout to know what he was getting into. He spoke with Carson Palmer, who played quarterback for Carroll at USC in 2001 and 2002, and threw passes to Owens in Owens' last NFL season of 2010.

''Just knowing [Carroll's] style and the way he goes about teaching and leading his team, I just thought T.O. would be a great fit,'' Palmer told the Associated Press. ''I really enjoyed playing with [Owens]. It was a great relationship when I was there, and I just let coach know I thought he would fit in really well with his style. I think they'll have a lot of success together.

''He was looking for a job anywhere,'' Palmer said. ''I know he's worked extremely hard to come back from the injuries he's had over the past couple of years. He was looking for a spot anywhere he could go.''

Carroll also went back and remembered the young T.O. with Norton. Just as it was with Mike Williams, who had an amazing comeback season for the Seahawks in 2010 after eating himself out of the NFL two years before, Carroll trusted his instincts when it came to the veteran on the periphery of the league, just looking for that last opportunity.

"Coach Carroll's great with his intuition," Norton said. "He does a great job of letting everybody know exactly what we need -- making it clear to everyone -- this is your role, this is what we want, this is what we need. If you can do this, welcome. If you can't, you need to move on."

For Carroll, Owens will need to make everything count -- because everything will be watched. "I just really [get a sense of] the people and try to get enough information -- where they're coming from, and to try to read their heart, and is it real? Once you get them here and give them the chance, then it all shows on the field. If you watch everything that somebody does, you listen to everything they say, and you watch what they wear ... we tell our guys everything they do counts. There are messages coming in every direction.

"That's all I can tell you, that's how I make the choices. Whether it's worked out or not, I don't know. I don't know who's keeping score on that stuff."

Well, Carroll will be keeping score, as will Norton, as will the young receivers who would love Terrell Owens to make the improbable jump from idol to teammate. Free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn, whom Carroll named his starter for the first preseason game this Saturday against the Tennessee Titans, is certainly hoping that Owens is past his days as a man who sees no issue in bashing his quarterbacks frequently and publicly. And the nation will be watching -- not only to see if T.O. still has it, but to see if Carroll bit off more than he can chew this time.

So, yeah ... all eyes on you, Mr. Owens, and the pressure starts now. It has always been so.

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