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Owens Understands Risks, Says He'll Play

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 1, 2005; 11:18 AM

JACKSONVILLE -- Wide receiver Terrell Owens says he is going to play in Sunday's Super Bowl against the New England Patriots at Alltel Stadium.

Owens said he understands the risks and feels he won't be jeopardizing his career by playing. He also joked that he is at "81 percent" right now.

_____More NFL Insider_____
Owens Partially Participates in Eagles Practice (washingtonpost.com, Jan 31, 2005)
Patriots Get Bang for Their Buck (washingtonpost.com, Jan 28, 2005)
League's Best Coordinators to Face Off (washingtonpost.com, Jan 27, 2005)

"I will play on Sunday," said Owens, who suffered a syndesmotic, or "high," ankle sprain and a fractured fibula in a Dec. 19 game against the Dallas Cowboys and underwent surgery three days later. "I know the type person I am. I have a lot of faith in my ability. I feel great. I'm proving a lot of people wrong. The sky is the limit for me. There are no limitations."

Eagles safety Michael Lewis said he expects Patriots defenders to do all they can Sunday to test the soundness of Owens's ankle.

"I'm pretty sure the Patriots are going to get after him and test him to see where his ankle is at," Lewis said. "I'm pretty sure he knows that, and he'll be prepared for that."

Lewis wasn't about to provide the Patriots with a scouting report of any weaknesses he spotted when Owens practiced with the team on Monday.

"I won't say anything outside of that he looks great," Lewis said. "He looks great. He looks great!"

Owens may not have played since Dec. 19, but he has been a locker-room presence throughout the playoffs.

"I told the guys in the locker room 'You guys just get us into the Super Bowl and I'll be there,'" he said. "They've done their job. Now it's time to do my job." . . .

Lewis said the biggest surprise for him thus far about his first Super Bowl is the security presence. "They are everywhere," he said. "There are policemen everywhere." Lewis is likely to be matched up at times Sunday with his former college teammate at Colorado, Patriots tight end Daniel Graham.

"I talked to Daniel last week," Lewis said. "It was along the lines of, 'Get ready.' It is going to be a nice little battle."

Will Seymour Play?

Now the question is whether the other injured player, the Patriots' Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour, will play Sunday.

Seymour missed the final game of the regular season and the Patriots' two victories in the AFC playoffs because of a knee injury, believed to be a sprained medial collateral ligament. It seems likely that Seymour will be able to play this weekend. The Super Bowl comes six weeks after he got hurt, and MCL injuries generally heal fully within six weeks. Coach Bill Belichick left open the possibility before the AFC title game that Seymour could play a limited role in that game, but Seymour was on the inactive list for the game in Pittsburgh.

The big test for Seymour's knee should come Wednesday, when the Patriots have their first heavy practice of the week. Seymour didn't participate in Monday's practice, instead running and doing individual drills on the side. Belichick was unhappy with the slick field at the high school where the Patriots practiced, despite the fact that the NFL reportedly spent more than $250,000 to upgrade it, and he didn't want to push Seymour to attempt to practice on it. . . .

The Patriots also withheld linebacker Ted Johnson from Monday's practice because of a tight leg muscle. . . . Belichick changed the Patriots' practice site in Houston during the week before last year's Super Bowl. It wasn't clear whether his displeasure with the field conditions Monday would lead to a similar switch this week. . . .

The Patriots had a two-hour practice Monday in which music blared over a sound system to simulate crowd noise.

Homecoming For Dawkins, Sheppard

The Super Bowl is a homecoming for the two standouts in the Eagles' defensive backfield, safety Brian Dawkins and cornerback Lito Sheppard. Both are Jacksonville natives, and both attended Raines High School.

"It's a dream come true," Sheppard said. "What more can a football player ask for than to play in a Super Bowl in their hometown, in front of your home fans and your family?"

Dawkins -- who, at 31, is eight years older than Sheppard -- was less choosy about the site of his first Super Bowl after enduring so many playoff disappointments during his nine-year Eagles tenure.

"It's not a big deal because I just want to play the game," he said. "I'm just happy to be in the game, to tell you the truth."

Dawkins spent $100,000 to have a new weight room built at Raines High.

"I appreciate everything everyone was able to give to me -- the teachers, the coaching staff -- and I just felt led to give at the time," he said. "I just felt led to give to those kids, and let them take pride in what it is that they have."

Former Eagles wide receiver Harold Carmichael, who serves as the team's director of player development and alumni, also is a Raines alum. . . .

Dawkins said his Super Bowl experience feels a bit incomplete because he's here without longtime secondary-mates Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor. The two veteran cornerbacks were allowed to depart the club via free agency last offseason, as the Eagles decided to get younger and go with Sheppard and Sheldon Brown as their starters at the position.

"It's just it would have been so wonderful to have those guys with me because they taught me so much and we were such great friends and such great brothers, really," Dawkins said. "It would have been so emotional for me to have those guys with me. Sometimes I get emotional talking about them not being here because of how close we were, and are, as friends." . . .

Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel serves as a tight end in the goal-line offense, and had a touchdown catch during last season's Super Bowl triumph over the Carolina Panthers. The ball from that touchdown, he said Monday, is stored at his home in Columbus, Ohio.

The difficult part about his role on offense, Vrabel said, is that the Patriots don't do any full-speed goal-line drills in practices during the regular season. He said he was "scared to death" when he first was thrown into games on offense.

"When you go out there, it never looks like it looks during practice," said Vrabel, who had two touchdown receptions this season. "I mean, this guy [the defender he's supposed to block] is not there. When we did the walk-through, this guy was standing right there, and he didn't move and didn't slant or whatever. So it's very different when you actually get in."

Vrabel, a eight-year NFL veteran, returned to Ohio State last offseason to complete work toward his degree in exercise science. He said his motivation to finish stemmed from a desire to go into coaching after his playing days are done.

"It's tough to recruit kids to come play for you and talk to their parents and say, 'I'm going to make sure your son goes to class, and I'm going to make sure he graduates,' when you don't have a degree yourself," Vrabel said. "It's tough to tell kids to go to class when they're looking at a coach who hasn't graduated. For my kids, also, it's important just to get it done."

Vrabel said he had "kept putting it off" because the last class he needed to complete his major was biochemistry. But the experience didn't turn out to be so rough.

"You're in there with a bunch of nursing students," he said. "There were like 12 girls and me, which wasn't bad. Don't get me wrong -- I didn't have to take a whole lot of notes. . . . They watch and I get letters from everybody in the class, so it was cool." . . .

Vrabel is one of the free-agent success stories for Belichick and Patriots front-office chief Scott Pioli. They signed Vrabel after he had spent four seasons with the Steelers without making a single start, and he has become one of the Patriots' most versatile and effective defenders. He fits the mold of the smart, hard-working players favored by the Patriots. But Belichick said Monday that he and Pioli don't have any sort of set formula for determining which players they'll take and which they'll pass up.

"It's not if they get 13 right out of 17," Belichick said. "It's the whole process of scouting -- watching a player play, talking to his coaches, sometimes talking to his teammates, putting him through a process of what we do and seeing what the retention is and what the conceptual understanding is," Belichick said. "It is certainly not any kind of scientific thing. It comes from a combination of the scouts, the coaches and maybe a combination of a group interview plus recommendations from the system the players have been in and what they have done. It's all aspects of the player's performance. It's his work ethic, his commitment to football, some of the skills you can sometimes see when a player is in a certain system that you see in another system. All that is put into the pot, and you make a decision and put a grade or evaluation on the player."

One of the toughest lessons he's had to learn while coaching in the salary cap era, Belichick said, is to pass on those players that he projects to be successful in the NFL but don't fit what his team does. It is a transition that Belichick has made successfully, but his coaching roots are in a different time and approach. He recalled Monday the days when he was Bill Parcells's defensive coordinator with the New York Giants in the 1980s, and the lineups never seemed to change when they'd face the Washington Redskins season after season. Belichick said the teams knew each other so well that the Giants' coaches wouldn't even bother to break down film of the Redskins' games against other opponents when readying to play them. . . .

Patriots tailback Corey Dillon, obtained in a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals last offseason, says he wants to finish his career in New England. "No doubt, this is it," said Dillon, whose contract expires after the 2005 season. "When it is said and done, this is the last stop for me." . . .

Vrabel played a role in the early football indoctrination of Stephen Neal, the Patriots' starting right guard who was a two-time NCAA wrestling champion at Cal State-Bakersfield and hadn't played football since high school when agent Neil Cornrich persuaded Belichick to give him a tryout in 2001.

Neal, the world's top-ranked wrestler in 1999, called Cornrich on the recommendation of former Olympic wrestler Matt Ghaffari, and the Cleveland-based Cornrich drove Neal to Columbus to work out with Ohio State strength coach Dave Kennedy. That's when Neal ran into Vrabel.

"I wanted to see if he had anything," Vrabel said. "We were down there. A lot of former players go back and work out. He just showed up with a pair of wrestling shoes and some shorts and stuff. And I said, 'Well, we have to get you outfitted to look like a football player.' I gave him some shoes and stuff. And from the first time he went and did a drill, you could see he had potential. Whatever position it is, he had potential. He had natural athletic ability."

The Patriots signed Neal in July 2001 but waived him a month later. The Eagles signed him to their practice squad, but the Patriots signed him to their 53-man roster off the Philadelphia practice squad in December 2001. Neal, slowed by injuries and hindered by his football inexperience, played only two games the previous two seasons, but became a starter in the third game of this season.

Weis, Crennel Available

A team spokesman said Monday that Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel were in town and would attend media day after initial indications that they had remained behind in Foxboro, Mass., to continue game preparations. Crennel also will be popular today, since he's in line to be named head coach of the Cleveland Browns following the Super Bowl. Belichick's assistants usually are barred from speaking to reporters. . . .

Eagles coach Andy Reid wears the Super Bowl ring that he received as an assistant coach with the Green Bay Packers in the 1996 season. "It's something that the players can see," Reid said. "I don't think the players are playing for money. . . . They're playing for the ring." . . .

Because of the complexity of the Patriots' defensive schemes, the pressure Sunday will be on Eagles center Hank Fraley, who calls the team's offensive-line signals.

"There has been a lot of film study the past two weeks, and I am kind of familiar with them because we played them in the preseason and last season," Fraley said. "It's definitely going to start with me recognizing where people are on the field and what scheme they are running."

Around the NFL

The San Francisco 49ers hired Jim Hostler, the New York Jets' wide receivers coach this past season, as quarterbacks coach. . . .

Denver running backs coach Bobby Turner is scheduled to interview for New Orleans's vacant offensive-coordinator job today. The Saints lost their offensive coordinator, Mike McCarthy, to the 49ers, and had another candidate, Marc Trestman, accept a job at N.C. State. The Saints also have an internal candidate in quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard. . . .

The Broncos hired Tim Brewster as tight ends coach and are close to officially completing a deal to add Bob Slowik, Green Bay's defensive coordinator this season, as their defensive backs coach. . . .

Seattle reportedly has received permission from Kansas City to interview Bill Kuharich, the Chiefs' vice president of pro personnel, and from Denver to interview Ted Sundquist, the Broncos' general manager. The Seahawks are looking to restock their front office after dismissing club president Bob Whitsitt and losing vice president of football operations Ted Thompson to Green Bay, where he became the Packers' general manager. Seattle's candidates reportedly include former Seahawks executives Randy Mueller and Mike Reinfeldt, Miami Dolphins executive vice president Bryan Wiedmeier, Detroit Lions executive VP Tom Lewand and Minnesota Vikings vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski.

Kuharich and Mueller are among the eight candidates to have interviewed for the 49ers' front-office job left vacant by the ouster of Terry Donahue as general manager.

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