SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Guess what Terrell Owens is up to now?
After all his antics over the past few years, it’s understandable to be braced for anything. That’s why the reality might be a surprise: T.O. is healthy, happy and ready for a calm second season with the Dallas Cowboys.
“I hope so,” he said. “I’m feeling good, looking good — so I’ve got to play good.”
Last season was a weird one, even by his standards.
It can’t be called a disappointment because Owens led the NFL in touchdown catches and Dallas made the playoffs after missing out for two years. However, Owens constantly was in the news for all the wrong reasons: a preseason hamstring injury, an accidental overdose on painkillers, squabbles with his position coach, a testy relationship with head coach Bill Parcells, the most dropped passes in the league … and more.
“I think there was a lack of concentration on my part and I can’t fault anybody but myself,” Owens said, referring to the drops and the overall season. “I can’t really put my finger on it. I just know it wasn’t there.”
Further probing is useless. With a smile, Owens cites “a memory lapse” when it comes to specifics about the dramas of 2006.
“Anything with reference to last year is a non-issue,” he said. “We are trying to really focus on this year. … We are going to make this a happy season.”
In that case, he’s off to a good start.
Evidence of a new T.O. began in May, when he caught passes at the team’s first offseason minicamp despite having a doctor’s note to be on the sideline because he was coming off two surgeries on his right ring finger. How’s that for a first impression on new coach Wade Phillips and the new offensive coaches?
The rest of the summer, quarterback Tony Romo landed on the gossip pages more than Owens. He certainly had his fun, but working out was always a priority.
Fitness may be the one area where Owens’ reputation is golden. Still, he stepped things up this summer, spending more time with his trainer, lifting weights and watching his diet as usual.
“What do I look like? I look good,” said Owens, his long-sleeve, full-leg tights showing off a 33-year-old body that’s as sleek and muscular as ever.
Owens caught 85 passes for 1,180 yards last season, numbers that picked up drastically when Romo replaced Drew Bledsoe.
Should Owens come close to those totals again, he’ll easily move into the top 10 on the NFL career list in both categories. He’s already fourth on the career TDs list, with 14 last season putting him at 114. He’s years away from Jerry Rice’s record (197) but within reach of No. 2 Cris Carter (130), although Indianapolis’ Marvin Harrison (122) is closing in, too.
Owens has plenty of reasons to expect a big season, starting with his surgically repaired finger. He said the pain bothered him so much that it was like playing “with 1 1/2 hands.”
“I know I can be better,” he said.
The coaching change should help, too. It’s not just that Parcells is gone, but also that Phillips is here.
While defense is Phillips’ specialty, he has a track record of getting the most out of his best receivers. The coach proudly noted that Shannon Sharpe’s career took off when Phillips became the head coach in Denver and that the same happened with Eric Moulds in Buffalo.
Phillips isn’t too involved in the offensive game plan, but he tells his coaches what he wants, even if it’s as vague as “get the ball to 81 a lot.” That message seems to be getting through. In the first few days of camp, Owens ran routes from both outside receiving spots, something he didn’t do last year. Phillips also likes the idea of lining him up in the slot.
“He hasn’t played much in the slot, which surprises me,” Phillips said. “I just don’t know how you’d play him in there, from a defensive standpoint. Playing against him, we were always glad that he was on one side and staying over there so we could double him.”
A coaching staff that’s looking for new ways to use him, a quarterback he trusts and an owner that didn’t hesitate to pay him a $3 million roster bonus in June — no wonder Owens is controversy-free and looking to keep it that way.
“If you are having fun playing football, you are going to be happy,” Owens said. “There are going to be days where you aren’t going to be as happy as others. Overall, you just want to go out there and be fun and be a kid playing a game that you like.”
He’s counting on the fun lasting into February.
“This is our year,” Owens said. “I think we have more than a good opportunity to get this team to the Super Bowl.”