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Tuesday, July 29, 2008
NFC Beast Exclusive: T.O. in one-on-one coverage

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

Published by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

 
 James D. Smith/Icon SMI
 The only "show" Terrell Owens has put on recently has been on the field.

The Cowboys have made Terrell Owens, Adam Jones, Tony Romo and Zach Thomas off limits for one-on-one interviews -- unless you're wearing an NFL Films T-shirt.

I intended to respect the rule, but that became impossible Monday afternoon. I had walked over to greet Hall of Famer Michael Irvin when T.O. came walking up. He was telling Irvin about some new wrinkles that offensive coordinator Jason Garrett had added to the club's deep routes, so I backed up a few steps to let them talk in peace.

A minute or two later, T.O. started jogging toward me and then he faked an out route in order to demonstrate to Irvin one of Garrett's new additions. Unlike Jones the previous day, I did not bite on the fake -- and I was holding a steno pad and wearing leather sandals.

When he finished with Irvin, T.O. agreed to a brief visit with the NFC East blog, which he kept referring to as Hashmarks. When most of America last saw Owens, he was weeping into a mic in defense of quarterback Tony Romo's supersaver to Cabo.

"That's my quarterback" doesn't have the same passion of Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy's "I'm a MAN!" speech, but it was still an instant classic. The only problem was that most of the country wasn't buying it. The tears didn't fit the selfish profile that T.O. had so carefully crafted in San Francisco and Philadelphia, so we keep waiting for a twist.

Well, it appears we're still waiting. Believe it or not, Owens is viewed as the consummate teammate in the Cowboys' locker room. He's the one player who somehow remembers to text birthday messages to all the quarterbacks and wide receivers. And when he burns a young cornerback in training camp, he'll stop and explain to him why it happened. Oh, and he keeps bringing hundreds of T-shirts to camp for his teammates, which isn't normal protocol for All-Pro receivers. Yesterday, tight end Jason Witten was wearing his "iCatch" T-shirt while Leonard Davis had on an XXXL "iBlock."

Is this really the guy who was doing pushups in his driveway three years ago and standing behind the ubiquitous Drew Rosenhaus as he fired off a series of "next questions?"

Well, T.O. doesn't think he's changed that much, but he admits that people are starting to have a different perception of him. He was embarrassed recently when word got out that he'd come to the rescue of an ESPN.com reporter who'd been struck by a vehicle after the ESPYs. He felt like he was doing what anyone else would've done in the situation and was bothered by the fact that some reporters insinuated that it was out of character. Would he have done the same thing for Jeff Garcia?

I didn't have the heart to ask him. He simply thinks that the post-Parcells era has given him a chance to blend in more and be himself.

"A lot of it has to do with the coaching staff," he said Monday afternoon. "They made the whole thing different. Before, it was run like the military. Bill [Parcells] wanted everyone hanging around the facility during the offseason, and I wasn't able to work with my trainer. And when I was rehabbing during the 2006 camp, that came back to haunt me. I tried to come back at 75 percent, but then I had another setback."

Phillips' first training camp was labeled as "Camp Cupcake" because of the laidback atmosphere and the fact that veterans were able to sit out several practices in order to recuperate. This year, Phillips has joked that it should be called "Camp Marshmallow."

"I saw it over the years in San Francisco. [Steve] Mariucci took care of the veterans," T.O. said. "You had to earn your stripes, but eventually he would give you a day to relax. And that's pretty important."

The most surprising thing in our 15-minute conversation was hearing him say that he actually thinks Romo has surpassed him in terms of celebrity -- and that he's fine with it.

"It kinda spreads the wealth," he said. "I'm used to all that stuff, so it's nice to see some other guys be in the limelight."

I thought about taking his temperature at this point, but he seemed somewhat lucid. Asked why he seems so content, T.O. talked about his faith.

"My pastor is in prayer for me the minute something goes wrong," he said. "If he hears me say something on TV that he doesn't understand, he'll text me. I just think people are finally realizing that I am a good guy. And it's nice when you have a lot of prayer warriors out there."

During the first week of training camp, T.O. and cornerback Adam Jones have provided an entertaining sideshow. On Sunday, Jones got in T.O.'s grill during a one-on-one drill and started pumping his arms to fire up the fans. T.O. faked an out and then beat Jones for a 50-yard touchdown.

"It's like Pacman said: Every dog has his day," said T.O. "Things like that prepare you for game-like situations, and it's nice to play in front of a crowd. I had to be a good salesman on that play. He asked me what I was looking at after the play, and I told him I wanted to make him turn his hips on the fake."

With that, T.O. turned and jogged away.

Now, stay tuned for news from around the NFC East. I'm hitting every camp in the division, so your team will be receiving wall-to-wall coverage soon. In fact, here's my schedule:

Redskins: Aug. 4-6

Eagles: Aug. 10-12

Giants: Aug. 12-14