Owens a step closer to playing on injured ankle

Eagles receiver practices for first time since Dec. 19

Pats have share of injuries

February 01, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - In a season in which both Super Bowl teams have endured pivotal injuries, the Philadelphia Eagles moved closer to the return of one of their stars.

Terrell Owens practiced yesterday for the first time since injuring his right ankle in mid-December, participating in fewer than one-third of the team's 30 offensive plays. The All-Pro receiver is reportedly working toward playing as the Eagles' third receiver Sunday against the New England Patriots.

"He looked good with the work he did," Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said. "We took it nice and slow and we'll see how he is [today]. The plan is to keep increasing his workload every day."

After successfully getting his trade to the Ravens overturned last offseason, Owens immediately became Philadelphia's top playmaker, leading the team with 77 catches for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns.

His regular season was cut short against Dallas on Dec. 19, when he severely sprained his ankle and broke his leg.

Dr. Mark Myerson, a surgeon in Baltimore, inserted two screws in Owens' ankle and a plate on the outside of the ankle on Dec. 22. He gave Owens a recovery period of eight to 10 weeks - it's nearly been six weeks now - and said last week that he would not clear him to play.

But in the Eagles' first practice in northern Florida, Owens ran fewer than 10 pass routes and was thrown the ball each time. After his final play, he high-fived receivers Freddie Mitchell and Todd Pinkston.

He's expected to be on the field when the Eagles resume practice tomorrow.

"We've got to prepare for his strengths and skills," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We've had the opportunity to look at him on film. If he's there, we'll defend accordingly to what we've seen. We expect him to be at his best."

The final decision on Owens' status will come down to the receiver, Reid and the team's medical staff. Owens has not been made available to reporters the past two days.

"Could the same injury occur? Yes," Reid said. "But he won't damage it any further."

Overcoming injuries has been the common on-the-field thread between the Eagles and the Patriots, two teams with contrasting styles on offense, defense and coaching.

The Eagles' pain has been widespread. Even if Owens plays, they will be without five key players: running back Correll Buckhalter, tight end Chad Lewis, guard Shawn Andrews, fullback Jon Ritchie and defensive end N.D. Kalu.

Injuries have been more concentrated on the Patriots, taking a toll on their offensive line and secondary.

When offensive right tackle Tom Ashworth and top backup Adrian Klemm both went down early in the season, New England was forced to go with former practice squad player Brandon Gorin.

When starting cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole were lost by midseason, the Patriots had to rely on nickel back Asante Samuel and undrafted rookie Randall Gay. Receiver Troy Brown then had to help out as the nickel back for a secondary deemed the weak link.

"Of course you get tired of hearing that," Samuel said. "We've been hearing that since the third and fourth weeks of the season. I get tired of it, and I just try to block that out and go out there and play ball."

New England's defense still marched through the playoffs without one of the game's top cornerbacks (Law) and top defensive linemen (Richard Seymour), creating seven turnovers and giving up three touchdowns in two postseason games. There is a chance that Seymour (knee) could return for the Super Bowl.

Asked how New England can overcome these injuries, linebacker Tedy Bruschi said, "Depth. Anyone can't come in and replace Big Sey. It's got to be a good capable football player. And we have one in Jarvis Green. Anyone can't replace a Ty Law but we have good football players in Randall Gay and Asante Samuel. Depth is the answer."

Injuries have become a source of motivation for both teams, especially in Owens' case.

Bombarded the past two days with questions about Owens' availability, Eagles players have been quick to point out that they won both of their playoff games without him and scored 27 points each time.

"People act like George Bush pushed the wrong button when T.O. got hurt," Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb said in addressing the perceived panic. "You all forgot about the rest of us. I'm the captain of this ship and I will make sure it will keep moving with or without him."

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