RENTON, Wash. — It was as shaky as you might expect at times from any 38-year-old receiver who hasn't run a route in a competitive situation for over a year, but when Terrell Owens took the field at Seahawks training camp Wednesday, he spent the next two hours showing flashes of the man who currently ranks sixth in career catches, and second in career yards and receiving touchdowns. At other times, Owens looked very much like a guy trying to come back from knee surgery, but there was enough to make people understand that there's still something left in the tank. Wearing number No. 10 "because it was available" instead of his usual 81, Owens took another valuable step back to the NFL.
"It was good, just a little bit rusty but glad to be out here," Owens said after practice. "I'm grateful for the opportunities the Seahawks have given me and I'm thankful for God for giving me this opportunity. Today didn't go as I would have liked, but it's leading into the right direction."
Throughout his NFL career, Owens has always been known as a receiver ready to challenge the most aggressive press cornerbacks, and he got opportunities early on with the Seahawks' young duo of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. In one early drill, Browner and Owens wrestled at the line for a good five seconds, without a clear winner at the end. Next time Owens hit the line, he was opposite Sherman, who immediately challenged him off the snap. This time Owens got free with a subtle hand move and jumped over Sherman to make a short catch.
"I've expected that, but again, I'm not at my very best right now and it's all about competition," Owens said of the physical welcome he received at the hands of Seattle's defensive backs. "Those guys are very competitive and as the weeks go on, it's going to be that way. I welcome the challenge and I look forward to it and they'll get the best of me here and there. As the season goes along, I think we're trying to achieve something special here and I want to be a part of it."
Mechanically, there are still issues, but many of them were the same ones that have popped up over the last three or four years of Owens' career. He's not dynamic with straight-line speed at all, but he's developed adaptive strategies to overcome that liability. He can get in a zone against off coverage, and he can still get free in short areas with his physicality. On quick-developing routes and comebacks, Owens showed that he's still getting the hang of speed cuts. He spent too much time with his chop steps, but he wasn't rounding off his routes; he was trying to get things right. He also made a leaping fingertip catch of a Matt Flynn throw on the right sideline about 25 yards downfield in team drills, beating two reserve defensive backs on a play that showed a little taste of the old speed.
Perhaps more importantly for those concerned with Owens acting up if and when things don't go his way, the 15-year veteran said that an entire season away from the NFL put things in a different perspective -- especially when his time with the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football league ended in less than storybook fashion.
"I think a lot of people don't expect me to use that word humble," Owens said, "but again, there have been a lot of moments where I had to face and use that word. Having to play in the indoor league in Texas, and just being around those guys. They are very hungry to get to where I am now. Just to be around them and to know that I was at the top at one point and now what it's like to rebuild my career and start over. It was an eye-opener for me. I used that experience to keep myself in shape throughout this process and again everything happens for a reason. I'm glad it happened and I'm where I am at right now, for the sake of God, and I just want to move forward."
Flynn, who was named the starting quarterback for Seattle's first preseason game Saturday against the Tennessee Titans, threw the majority of passes to Owens, though the receiver did go up against the ones and twos in team drills. Flynn is just like everyone else on the Seahawks, ready to present Owens with a clean slate and see what he can do.
"You hear all the stories, you hear everything," Flynn said on Wednesday. "I've sat and talked to him a lot since he's been here, and he seems like an extremely nice guy. It's one of those things, the program that we're running here, the attitude that the whole team has. I think it's going to be a good situation for him and us ... This is a guy that everyone on the team has watched growing up, playing football. Everyone knows his talent level and what he's done. He's here to make the team better and we're excited."
Browner, having handed Owens all he could handle on the field, agreed. "It was fun, man. He's going to make me better, and I'm going to make him better. We also play guys like Brandon Marshall and Larry Fitzgerald, so it was good work.
"It was the first day to judge, but he looked really good out there."
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said that Owens will not likely play in the preseason opener against Tennessee . What he can do in the meantime is get reps and put himself back in football shape. What that means at this point of his career is still open to speculation, but so far, so good.
"Getting used to the pads, the helmets, and things of that nature, also getting myself back in shape, physically," Owens concluded when asked about that process. "I look pretty good, but I have to get my endurance and my feet back under me. I need to really sustain a full practice and get in game shape."
For now, "pretty good" appears to be good enough.
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