If Owens was to ever again replicate anything remotely like the three-touchdown day Burress had last Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, he would have to show that he could do what he'd always done at a high level — get off press coverage with a quick release, make fast cuts on short routes, and get upfield in a hurry off those cuts and catches.
"I feel good," Owens told Soto after the workout. "This is actually shorter than I've been going the last couple of weeks, so I feel good. It's been challenging from a physical standpoint, just to get my knee back to where it needs to be, and to have the confidence to go out here and run and cut. This is what I've been training for, I'm not worried about the naysayers who say that I can't come back, that I'm wasting my time. I think what I showed today -- it speaks for itself."
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Well, not to align myself with the "naysayers", but ... whether it was the knee or age simply catching up to him, Owens looked below par in comparison to an average NFL possession receiver. He ran a handful of routes on the high school's field after an extended warmup and caught balls from quarterback Casey Hansen of the Arena League's Spokane Shock. Defensive back Richard Brown, who has had some camp time with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons, lined up against Owens on a few of the routes.
The first point of concern: Through the workout, Owens got frequent breaks between drills; Charles Davis of the NFL Network made the valid point that teams would want to move this process along and see how winded he gets. However, there was no weakness or buckling in the left knee.
He spent the first 20 minutes of the hour warming up with trainer Raymond Farris and hanging out with Rosenhaus. Once he got going, he looked reasonably quick on the ladder drill; good short-step quickness there. Owens rounded off his cuts a little bit on the second 60-yard shuttle after looking nice and tight on the first one. He seemed to have good, fast foot "twitch" and appears to have no issues with lateral motion.
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His feet were active in blocking drills but looked a bit slow to turn in the "stalk" mirror drill where he ran up a few yards and moved with his trainer side to side. He got decent first-step separation off the line in drills. That's key, because at this point in his career, he isn't going to run a lot of go routes — he will be asked to get very quick separation and catch the ball quickly on shorter routes.
On the 5-yard quick out, he got vertical on a high throw and came to the ground. Teams would probably want him to be able to keep his feet and turn upfield on that. On the 12-yard comeback (quick dig) — there were no knee problems with the turn back and upfield, but he was not exceptionally quick -- not an aggressive and controlled turn-and-cut player at this point in his recovery.
Owens looked a bit quicker on the 10-yard skinny post to out route, but I didn't see a guy who was going to consistently separate in those short routes unless he can be physical and beat press with his hands as he has before.
He held up and decelerated a step after the turn on the 18-yard out, missing the anticipated throw. Another problem there — if quarterbacks have to adjust to a receiver with very little in the way of acceleration in those short areas, they're going to get sacked a lot. Not going to happen. He ran another 18-yard out and looked slow after the turn again. He looked better on a very quick short slant, but that's easy fodder. Not bad on the hard cut to beat off coverage, but I don't think that speed is gonna work against, say, Brandon Flowers.
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Overall, and hearing from one source that Owens is fairly close to complete in his recovery (a couple weeks away, that source told me), I'm not seeing a receiver that would grab interest from any team. Until and unless he can get up to speed and optimal acceleration after cuts, I'm not sure what he'd be able to do in an offense.
Owens remained positive, even when asked about the lack of NFL interest.
"I have faith that I'll land on my feet."
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