JACKSONVILLE -- Wide receiver Terrell Owens participated in the Philadelphia Eagles' practice on a limited basis today, further testing his severely sprained ankle and moving a significant step closer to playing in Sunday's Super Bowl against the New England Patriots at Alltel Stadium.
"We limited what he did," Eagles Coach Andy Reid said. "But he did it well, and he did it with the team. He moved around pretty good. We'll see how he continues here, how he feels [Tuesday] morning and how he continues throughout the week."
Said Eagles tight end L.J. Smith: "He looked pretty good. He ran pretty smooth out there. The rest is up to T.O. and the doctors and the coaches, I guess."
Reid continues to take a wait-and-see approach to Owens's status for the game, saying he didn't see enough to know that Owens will be ready to play against the Patriots. Owens participated in less than 10 plays today, Reid said, and the toughest practice-field tests are still to come Wednesday and Thursday.
"I have to see how he does here in the next few days," Reid said.
It's clear, though, that the Philadelphia Eagles are operating on the premise that they will have Owens available to serve at least as their third receiver Sunday. A team source said this morning that, barring a setback during this week's practices, Owens is on course to play. Eagles coaches are counting on having Owens available for 20 to 40 plays as the third wideout behind Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell and could increase that workload if he looks good during practices this week, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Reid is being so cautious in his public comments.
According to the source, Eagles coaches knew late last week that they'd have Owens because the wide receiver was able to run and make sharp cuts on the ankle during last week's workouts, and because Owens is so intent on playing in his first Super Bowl.
The Eagles hope that Owens will give his ankle a full test by practicing all-out Wednesday. The club also has Greg Lewis to work into the playing-time mix at wide receiver, so it would not tie the coaching staff's hands too much if the team were to use a spot on its active roster for Owens and he were to aggravate the injury.
The Eagles scored 54 points in their two NFC playoff games without Owens, but his return undoubtedly would provide them with a boost. He was one of the league's most valuable players before getting hurt and missing the final 2 1/2 games of the regular season. He finished the regular season with 77 catches for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns, and was selected to his fifth career Pro Bowl. Owens suffered a severe syndesmotic, or "high," ankle sprain and a fractured fibula when he was dragged down by Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams during an Eagles' triumph on Dec. 19. He underwent surgery on his ankle three days later.
Baltimore-based orthopedist Mark Myerson, who performed that one-hour procedure, announced last week that he would not clear Owens to play in the Super Bowl. But Eagles officials said they'd expected Myerson to take that stance due to liability issues and indicated they'd move ahead with Owens's rehabilitation in hopes of having him available for the game.
Medical experts not involved in Owens's case said last week that Owens would be risking re-injuring himself, perhaps more seriously than before, if he plays before his ankle heals fully. Myerson and other medical experts say that requires at least eight weeks of rehabilitation following the surgery. The Super Bowl comes seven weeks after Owens got hurt. Reid said today that his understanding is that Owens could re-injure himself by playing, but not more seriously than before.
"Could the same injury occur? Yes," Reid said. "But he won't damage it any further than he already has." . . .
Linebacker Mark Simoneau, who missed the Eagles' two playoff games because of an ankle injury suffered in the regular-season finale, also practiced today.
Fritz Pollard Alliance Exonerates Dolphins
The leaders of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the group formed to promote minority hiring at all levels of the NFL, expressed concerns a few weeks ago about the process by which the Miami Dolphins hired Nick Saban as their head coach.
The Dolphins appeared intent upon hiring Saban before they interviewed Art Shell, the former Oakland Raiders coach who now works in the league office. The interview with Shell satisfied the league requirement that each team with a head-coaching vacancy interview at least one minority candidate. The leaders of the Fritz Pollard Alliance questioned whether the Shell interview was legitimate, and sent a letter to Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the head of the NFL's workplace diversity committee. The league indicated that it would investigate the matter.
But John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said late last week that, after speaking to Shell, he no longer questions the validity of the interview and is satisfied with the Dolphins' hiring process. Wooten likened the Dolphins' deliberations to those of the Dallas Cowboys, who conducted a telephone interview with Dennis Green before hiring Bill Parcells as their coach following the 2002 season.
"I looked at it like I looked at the Dennis Green situation in Dallas, when he had a phone interview before they hired Parcells," Wooten said. "He felt it was a fair opportunity, so I took his word for it. When I talked to Art Shell, he felt it was legitimate. What we didn't know [initially] was that he was truly interested in getting back into coaching. That changes everything. He's been a head coach. He knows. He had about a six-hour interview and he said it was fair, so that was fine with me. That's all I can go by. I'm fine with it."
Wooten, like everyone else, expects Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to be named the Cleveland Browns' head coach after the Super Bowl. That would give the league six black head coaches, four of whom would have gotten their jobs in the three hiring cycles since the minority interviewing rule -- known as the "Rooney Rule" -- was put into effect.
Crennel's hiring in Cleveland would come a few days after Fritz Pollard, the first black coach in NFL history, could be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame during a meeting here Saturday of the media members who serve as electors.
"If Fritz Pollard is selected for the Hall of Fame on Saturday and then the Super Bowl comes on Sunday and Romeo is announced Monday, that would be a great few days for the NFL," Wooten said during a telephone interview.
Wooten and other leaders of the Fritz Pollard Alliance say they're pleased with the progress that the league has made in minority hiring since the Rooney Rule was enacted by acclamation of the team owners in December 2002 under the threat of litigation. Wooten credited Rooney and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue in particular.
"When Dan Rooney was first named the chairman of the committee, I said to Cyrus [Mehri, the Washington attorney involved in the Fritz Pollard Alliance], 'We have won. That's a victory for us,' " Wooten said. "I've known the Rooneys all my life, and they're all about fair play. . . . I don't think the league can do any more than it's doing. What we have to do is continue to work with our people and make sure they're fully prepared for the opportunities that arise."
The league has not extended the Rooney Rule to cover interviewing for key front-office positions, like general manager and club president. But the NFL has strongly encouraged teams to follow the same guideline when interviewing candidates for those jobs, and minority candidates have been interviewed this offseason for GM-level jobs in Cleveland and San Francisco.
"What they've done with the clubs is outline the procedure," Wooten said. "It hasn't been made part of the rule, but the clubs are following it. San Francisco did. Cleveland did. It's working. It really is working. The clubs are learning that there are minorities out there capable of doing these jobs at the highest levels of the organization. The owners are seeing it.
"We don't have the Rooney Rule in the front office for a number of reasons. When you elevate from within the club, you don't have to follow it. That's fair. We understand that. You can bring your children and your family members into the business, and that's fine. We'd all do the same thing. But when you look outside the organization, you should give an equal opportunity to everyone."
Wooten said that the Fritz Pollard Alliance has decided to give its Tank Younger Award to former 49ers coach Bill Walsh for creating the league's first minority coaching internship program. The award will be given at the NFL's scouting combine in Indianapolis next month. It is named for Paul (Tank) Younger, the NFL's first player from a traditionally black college and its first black front-office executive.
Crennel, Weis Stay Behind
Crennel, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and other Patriots assistants didn't accompany the team here Sunday. They remained behind in Foxboro, Mass., to continue preparations for the game and are to arrive Tuesday. . . .
In between conducting his verbal sparring with Mitchell, Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said he'd been fined $7,500 by the league for ripping the facemask off the helmet of Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward during the AFC championship game. Harrison estimated that he's been fined about $700,000 by the NFL during his 11-year career. . . .
The Patriots are trying to join the 1990s Cowboys as the only teams ever to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span. . . .
Middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said that so many Eagles players had camcorders on the team's flight here that he "thought the media was on the plane."
Niners Interview Mueller, Kuharich
The 49ers interviewed Randy Mueller and Bill Kuharich on Sunday for their front-office job left vacant by the dismissal of Terry Donahue as general manager. Mueller, the former GM of the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks, and Kuharich, the vice president of pro personnel for the Kansas City Chiefs, are the two most prominent of the eight candidates interviewed so far by the 49ers. . . .
Former Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett withdrew from a skills competition for NFL draft prospects scheduled to be held today at Dolphins Stadium and broadcast this weekend by Fox. Clarett pulled out to prepare for the combine, his representatives said. . . .
The Seahawks, searching for a team president to replace the fired Bob Whitsitt, reportedly have asked Denver for permission to interview Ted Sundquist, the Broncos' general manager. . . .
The 49ers released quarterback Jeff Garcia last offseason, and the Browns could do so this offseason. Garcia was unhappy during an unproductive season in Cleveland and he didn't mesh well with offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie, who could remain with the team under Crennel.
The free-agent market could be well-stocked with veteran quarterbacks. Buffalo might release Drew Bledsoe and elevate J.P. Losman to be its starter. The Cowboys probably would be in the running to sign Bledsoe if the Bills cut him.