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NFL Indsider - Mark Maske

Hope Remains for Owens Comeback

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 26, 2005; 12:50 PM

Philadelphia Eagles officials said today that they will continue to consider the possibility of using wide receiver Terrell Owens in the Super Bowl, over the objection of his doctor.

Coach Andy Reid and head trainer Rick Burkholder said that Owens will continue to rehabilitate his severely sprained ankle, and a decision about whether Owens will play against the New England Patriots in 11 days in Jacksonville, Fla., will be made based on whether Owens and the team's coaches and medical staff feel he'll be able to play effectively without re-injuring himself.

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Orthopedist Mark Myerson, who operated on Owens's ankle last month at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, said after re-examining Owens on Tuesday that he would not clear Owens to play.

"We understand Dr. Myerson's point of view," Burkholder said at a news conference. "We expected it when we went down there. . . . As a liability issue, he couldn't clear him. We understand that, and we expected it. There's no difference of opinion on that. . . . It's just that our risk-reward is different than his. [Myerson] has great risk in clearing Terrell to play. He has no reward. We think that there's some risk, and there's great reward."

Reid said: "We're never going to put Terrell at risk, where we're putting him out there to get injured. If all the symptoms point to that he's able to play, then we'll put him out there. . . . It's a day-to-day process, and we can't worry about that now. We have to worry about getting ready for the New England Patriots. If he's out there, fine. If he's not out there, then fine, too."

Burkholder accompanied Owens to Baltimore on Tuesday to meet with Myerson. Burkholder said that Myerson took X-rays and discussed Owens's rehabilitation. The doctor watched a DVD prepared by the Eagles showing Owens's progress. According to Burkholder, Myerson indicated that Owens was further along in his rehabilitation than he'd expected.

Owens worked out late Tuesday after returning from Baltimore, Burkholder said, and will continue to test his ankle with a running program. If all goes well, Burkholder said, the Eagles will consider allowing Owens to practice, then perhaps consider allowing him to play in the game. Owens told Myerson on Tuesday that he was experiencing some soreness in his ankle but there have been no setbacks in his rehabilitation, Burkholder said.

"Our immediate plan is to continue the rehab as we've done,'' Burkholder said. " . . . If he has a setback in this rehab, the idea of playing in the Super Bowl is probably off. . . . We're not asking him to play a whole season on this. We're asking him to play one game."

According to Burkholder, Myerson talked about a rehabilitation period of five to seven weeks immediately after the surgery, but later changed that timetable to eight to 10 weeks. Burkholder said the Eagles' research uncovered an NFL wide receiver who played on opening day one season six weeks after suffering an identical injury during training camp. He refused to identify the player. The Super Bowl comes seven weeks after Owens's injury occurred.

The Eagles are scheduled to practice today without Owens, and Reid said the team's game plan will be prepared without Owens in it.

"He's not there,'' Reid said. "So you don't game plan when he's not there. He's not practicing. . . . He's a great player. Would you love to have him there? Yeah. But would you put him at risk? No, you wouldn't do that."

At the very least, Reid probably will want the Patriots to have to keep guessing about Owens's status until shortly before game time.

"If T.O. plays, obviously it's an added bonus," Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said today. "If he doesn't, it's not going to stop anything we do."

McNabb said he would have faced a tough choice if the Eagles had qualified for the Super Bowl last season after he was knocked from the NFC championship game by a rib injury.

"There are a lot of things to think about -- the career-ending aspect of it, and playing in the Super Bowl," McNabb said. "If we had made it to the Super Bowl last year, with my ribs, it would have been hard to keep me off of that field. This is a dream come true. . . . That's a tough call."

Myerson's recommendation could be interpreted as an attempt to clear himself of liability if Owens opts to play in the Super Bowl and re-injures himself. But the Eagles picked Myerson to perform the surgery, and perhaps could face insurance obstacles if the club and Owens decide for him to play against the wishes of the team's chosen specialist. Owens has said all along that he hopes to play but would not do anything to jeopardize his career.

Owens said Monday that his rehabilitation was ahead of schedule and he was hopeful of playing against the Patriots, but he stopped short of saying he was certain that he'd be able to play.

Owens suffered a syndesmotic, or "high," ankle sprain and a fractured fibula when he was dragged down by Dallas safety Roy Williams during the Eagles' triumph over the Cowboys on Dec. 19 at Lincoln Financial Field. Myerson performed surgery on Owens's ankle three days later, inserting two screws and a plate to stabilize the joint during the one-hour procedure.

Myerson, the director of the Institute for Foot and Ankle Reconstruction at Mercy, said at the time that the surgery had gone well. He said then that Owens had a chance to play in the Super Bowl, depending on his progress in rehabilitation, and indicated that he previously had seen athletes return from the procedure within seven weeks to compete at a high level. He and Eagles officials said that the fracture in Owens's fibula would heal on its own before his ankle healed.

A written statement released by the hospital Tuesday, however, said that Myerson "is extremely pleased with Owens's recuperation and the progress" but he "informed Owens he cannot medically release him to play in the upcoming Super Bowl" because the normal recovery period of eight to 10 weeks following the procedure has not elapsed.

Myerson said that "further acceleration of the rehabilitation process poses{hellip} risk for injury," the statement said. The hospital's statement indicated that Myerson would not comment further on the matter and referred questions about Owens's status for the game to the Eagles.

Thomason's Florida Vacation

The Eagles placed Chad Lewis on the injured reserve list Tuesday because of the foot injury that he suffered in the NFC championship game and signed fellow tight end Jeff Thomason to replace him.

Thomason played in two Super Bowls for Green Bay when Reid was a Packers assistant coach. The former Eagle has been out of the NFL for the past two seasons and was working for a construction company in New Jersey, keeping in shape by competing in triathlons.

Thomason, 35, last played for the Eagles in the 2002 season. The club drafted tight end L.J. Smith the following spring, effectively ending Thomason's tenure with the team. He had a workout with Carolina in November 2003, but the Panthers picked Marco Battaglia over him. He decided to stay in the Philadelphia area because he had a daughter in high school. He was working behind a desk as a construction project manager for Toll Brothers Inc., and said he would use vacation time for his one-game return to football.

He could get into about 20 plays as a backup to Smith and special-teams participant. Reid is reluctant to use his other reserve tight end, Mike Bartrum, on offense because Bartrum is the Eagles' long snapper. Thomason will earn $68,000 if the Eagles beat the Patriots and $36,500 if they lose. He also gets 13 Super Bowl tickets.

Thomason remains close to Lewis, and his first inkling that the Eagles were interested in signing him came when Lewis called him Monday. Thomason played three seasons with the Eagles and had 25 catches, seven of them for touchdowns. He scored five touchdowns on 10 receptions for Philadelphia in the 2000 season. He has 67 catches for 650 yards and 10 touchdowns in a 10-year NFL career that began with the Cincinnati Bengals in 1992. He spent two seasons with Cincinnati and five seasons with Green Bay . . . .

Myerson is scheduled to perform surgery on Lewis's foot today . . . .

Shannon Sharpe, the tight end who won three Super Bowl titles playing for Denver and Baltimore, said during his radio show Tuesday that he would have considered playing for the Eagles in the Super Bowl. Sharpe retired from the Broncos last offseason to take a job on the CBS studio show . . . .

The Patriots players are off today and practice for the first time this week Thursday.

Lions Pick Tollner

Detroit Lions Coach Steve Mariucci picked Ted Tollner to be his offensive coordinator. Tollner, who was the San Francisco 49ers' offensive coordinator this season, replaces Sherman Lewis, who retired after the season . . . .

Jacksonville Jaguars Coach Jack Del Rio hired USC quarterbacks coach Carl Smith as his offensive coordinator. He replaces the fired Bill Musgrave. Smith once was the New Orleans Saints' offensive coordinator when Del Rio played for the club. Del Rio continues to look to the college ranks to fill his coaching staff. He previously hired Georgia defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder as his linebackers coach . . . .

Saints offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy interviewed for San Francisco's offensive-coordinator job under new 49ers coach Mike Nolan on Tuesday in Mobile, Ala., where NFL coaches, scouts and executives are gathered for this week's Senior Bowl practices. Nolan apparently hopes to hire an offensive coordinator this week . . . .

McCarthy also could be a candidate for the Tennessee Titans, who lost offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger to the New York Jets. The Titans' other candidates could include current Tennessee assistants Mike Munchak and George Henshaw and perhaps USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow . . . .

The Miami Dolphins hired Hudson Houck as their offensive line coach. Houck was San Diego's offensive line coach the past three seasons after nine seasons is Dallas, and he is highly regarded around the league . . . .

The 49ers began their search for a front-office chief by interviewing Rick Smith, the Broncos' pro personnel director, Tuesday in the Bay Area. They are scheduled to interview Charles Bailey, the Jaguars' pro personnel director, and Chris Polian, the Indianapolis Colts' assistant general manager who is the son of Colts President Bill Polian, today. The 49ers are looking for an executive to replace ousted GM Terry Donahue.

Jets Confirm Pennington Tear

The Jets confirmed Tuesday that quarterback Chad Pennington played late in the season with a torn rotator cuff. Pennington is scheduled to undergo surgery next month and Jets officials, who said that Pennington did not injure his shoulder further by playing, are hopeful that he will be ready for training camp.

The Jets called Pennington's injury a strained rotator cuff at the time. Club officials said they knew the extent of the injury all along but did not reveal it publicly for competitive reasons, and indicated that Pennington was at minimal risk for injuring his shoulder more severely by playing. Pennington's surgery is to be performed by Birmingham orthopedist James Andrews. Pennington has a partial tear and faces three to four months of rehabilitation following the procedure, according to the Jets. The quarterback did suffer a complete tear of one of the four muscles of the rotator cuff, according to the team . . . .

Pittsburgh rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Tuesday that he played the second half of the AFC title game with two broken toes on his right foot. He said that he suffered the injury late in the first half. Head coach Bill Cowher, however, disputed that notion Wednesday, saying that he did not, in fact, break toes, but merely aggravated toe injuries that he had suffered in college. Roethlisberger threw three interceptions and suffered his first loss as an NFL starter. . . .

Dolphins Coach Nick Saban told reporters Tuesday in Mobile that he plans to stick with A.J. Feeley as the team's starting quarterback next season. . . .

Ravens tailback Jamal Lewis is to be sentenced today in Atlanta. He is expected to get a four-month prison term after previously reaching a plea agreement in his federal drug conspiracy case.

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