Moss, Owens determined to become dominant again
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) – Randy Moss playfully chased reserve nose tackle Ian Williams toward the locker room after practice and razzed the second-year pro with each step. It was hardly a fair deal, given Moss’ stellar speed even at age 35 against the 305-pound Williams.
“I’m not running with you, man,” Moss joked amid laughs and smiles from both men.
While Moss is having a blast as he begins anew with the 49ers after a year out of football, former San Francisco star Terrell Owens is doing the same thing in the Pacific Northwest. Still bold and brash, T.O. signs autographs shirtless in Seattle – getting his fresh start at age 38 with the Niners’ NFC West rival also following a season away from the NFL.
Both are determined to once again become the dominating deep threats they were in their primes.
Neither cares to speak publicly about his efforts to return to the top form that put them among the best wideouts to ever play.
Moss and Owens have a couple of things in common: a shared confidence they can still catch the ball against younger, more athletic NFL defenders, and a defiant attitude aimed at those who want to label them or knock shaky reputations they insist aren’t all they’ve been made out to be.
Owens clearly still has some catching up to do. He missed five chances on passes thrown his way in his debut during a 30-10 win at Denver last Saturday.
He has struggled to find his role or connect with competing Seattle quarterbacks Matt Flynn and rookie Russell Wilson. Owens dropped a potential 46-yard touchdown against the Broncos and hasn’t stood out in practice the same way as Braylon Edwards, the Seahawks’ other new veteran wide receiver, who played last year with San Francisco.
Owens, these days showing a spiritual side after a couple of rough years, has had little time to learn Pete Carroll’s West Coast offense. Moss, meanwhile, has looked speedy and in sync playing in the 49ers’ system since Day 1 wearing his new No. 84 jersey.
During Tuesday’s practice, safety C.J. Spillman jumped in front of Moss to break up a pass from Alex Smith. Spillman and Moss – two former college stars at Marshall during different times – then started laughing in a regular light moment for the defending division champion 49ers (No. 4 in the AP Pro32).
Moss has little time to worry about what people might say about him.
“I just love to play football,” he said. “All that other stuff, I will leave up to you all. I have been playing football since I was 6 years old. The love that I have for the game of football is going to always be in me.”
Keeping Owens in check mentally will be a big part of Carroll’s challenge.
In 2006, T.O. made headlines for what police initially considered a suicide attempt but later was classified as an “accidental overdose” of prescription medication. Owens’ publicist emphatically denied he had attempted suicide, saying an assistant arrived at Owens’ home after he took a sleeping aid.
Following surgery on his left knee in 2011, Owens began his football return this spring with the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League, making 35 catches for 420 yards and 10 touchdowns while playing eight of 11 games. He was then released and lost an ownership stake in the team in May.
Not that it seems to have affected his swagger. He’s plenty happy to flaunt his fit physique as he pushes 40.
Owens’ Twitter handle notes that he is “No. 10 for the Seahawks, No. 81 in my heart.”
“Eighty-one was not available so I took No. 10,” he said. “I look good in 10 and it’s going to be my number.”
Owens appears as confident as ever as he begins his 16th season with a sixth different team. He last played for Cincinnati in 2010, finishing with 72 catches for 983 yards and nine touchdowns.
He has 1,078 career receptions for 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns – the second-most TD catches in NFL history behind Hall of Famer Jerry Rice’s 197.
Owens joined the Seahawks (No. 22 in the AP Pro32) on Aug. 6, so he didn’t have the same kind of prep time Moss did to get to know his teammates and a new offense through a full offseason program.
Moss – minus those dreadlocks that used to define his look – is chasing his 11th 1,000-yard season, which would move him closer to Rice’s record mark of 14. He spent a rocky 2010 season with New England, Minnesota and Tennessee.
“I don’t know if there’s any one thing – I think the joy of the game comes out for sure,” Smith said of playing with Moss. “You can see it out there, how much he likes being out there, how much he likes being around his teammates. He’s got a great sense of humor, but he’s out there working.”
Moss is winning over his coaches and teammates before he has even helped them win a single game. He doesn’t need to say much as long as he keeps doing what he has so far, if you ask coach Jim Harbaugh. The 6-foot-4 Moss zigzags to shake defenders, shuffles to show off his fancy footwork and puts just a little bit extra into his routes – and that effort and energy has rubbed off on Michael Crabtree and others in his unit. They listen to him, intently.
Harbaugh loves tall wideouts with soft hands and the athletic ability to outleap cornerbacks and safeties to make game-breaking plays.
“He’s always talking about football,” Harbaugh said. “Never come up on him when he’s in one of those loud, gregarious moods, where he’s not talking about football. Trying to catch him in one of those moments, but have not been successful yet, which is a great sign. He really enjoys it, he really loves football.”
Moss signed a one-year deal in mid-March only hours after he worked out with former NFL quarterback and reigning NFL Coach of the Year Harbaugh.
Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke hope the risk they took on Moss will pay off considering 49ers receivers produced only one catch for 3 yards in a 20-17 loss in the NFC championship game to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Moss’ presence on the practice field provides a daily push for Vic Fangio’s defense, too.
“You have to be up on your game each and every snap that you face him,” said cornerback Carlos Rogers, who shared the team lead with six interceptions in 2011. “We have fun with it. It’s something that we embrace. ”
Moss has said his absence had nothing to do with football.
“One thing that I have learned that people don’t like the truth, so I’ll just wait until my book comes out just to see why I did walk away from the game for a year,” he said.
Moss’ best season came for the Patriots in 2007, when he caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and a single-season record 23 touchdowns in helping lead New England to a 16-0 regular season.
“That’s my guy. He’s a living legend right now,” Crabtree said. “One of the best to ever play the position. It’s just fun to be around him. ”
Moss told Rogers how much he missed football. Owens has similar sentiments.
“It’s all about being a part of something, rather than being the center of something,” Owens said. “I’ve changed in a lot of ways in things that I’ve learned in the last two years, and I’ve had a lot of time to think about things. I just want to move forward and leave all the others things in the past behind me.”
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this story.