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Benchwarmer

Fraught With Terrell

By Gabriel Wardell | Posted 8/17/2005

When Terrell Owens burned the Ravens last off-season, squirming his way through a contract loophole that would have brought him to Charm City, many Ravens fans exhaled a collective sigh of relief. These wise folks did not want Owens’ antics and shenanigans disrupting the Ravens clubhouse. They wouldn’t be tempted by visions of the wide receiver in purple and black, flapping his arms in celebration in the end zone, tossing touchdown footballs into the stands at M&T Bank Stadium as the scoreboard operators worried about burning out the bulbs on the offensive side of the ledger for the first time since the Pro Bowl season of Vinnie Testaverde.

Owens instead declared free agency and decided to take the T.O. show to Philly, signing to a seven-year, $48.97 million deal. In his first year as an Eagle, Owens caught 14 touchdown passes in 14 games—single-handedly topping the Ravens entire receiving-corps season total of 13. His 1,200 yards for the season trumps the top three Ravens receivers (Travis Taylor, Kevin Johnson, and Randy Hymes) combined. Against the Ravens in Philadelphia last October, Owens proved the difference in a frustrating 15-10 loss as he snagged an 11-yard pass from Donovan McNabb to cap a nine-play, 65-yard fourth-quarter drive, a drive that also featured 15-yard and 14-yard completions to you know who.

It appeared as though Baltimore had lost out. Ravens fans felt the sting when Owens strolled into the end zone and performed an unmistakable parody of Ray Lewis’ “defend this house” routine.

As the Ravens suffered a late-season flame-out, unprecedented in the Brian Billick era, the Owens debacle remained a festering sore spot. A team that had previously grown stronger as the season progressed looked to be running out of juice. Games that had once been winnable now slipped away. Games that were close at halftime hemorrhaged quickly as the exhausted defense surrendered second-half points with abandon.

The Ravens missed the playoffs, largely because of an inconsistent passing game. Even with Jamal Lewis carrying the load, the running game became easier for teams to defend against—defenses stacked the box then swarmed around Jamal like reporters staking out the Neverland Ranch. With no established deep threat, and with Jamal nursing a tender right ankle, there was little spark in the Ravens’ offensive possessions.

Despite an ankle injury that sidelined him for the final two weeks of the regular season—and the front end of the Eagles’ playoff run—Owens, citing God as his trainer, pronounced himself ready to play in the Super Bowl. He shocked everyone with a healthy nine receptions for 122 yards, but alas, no TDs. It wasn’t enough to put the Eagles over the top.

Now, two weeks into 2005 training camp, the Ravens appear to have dodged a bullet. As Owens, asked to leave Eagles camp for a week by coach Andy Reid, mouths off to anyone shameless enough to put a mic in his face—meaning just about every reporter on the ESPN payroll—Billick and the Ravens enjoy a unified clubhouse.

In the off-season, Billick addressed rumors of a divided clubhouse in 2004. Sporting a wise-man beard, the coach went Dr. Phil on everyone’s ass, arranging face-to-face meetings with the core of the team, hashing out the alleged rift. His desire to instill mental strength and unity may prove the difference between a long off-season and a trip to Detroit for Super Bowl XL.

Thus far, the only distraction reported at Ravens training camp, if you can even call it that, was a week-long holdout by the first-round draft pick, wide receiver Mark Clayton. This off-season, not saddled by Owens’ cap number or pesky agent Drew Rosenhaus, the Ravens made some shrewd additions to the receiving corps. In addition to rookie Clayton, the team scored Tennessee’s Derrick Mason, the NFL’s leading wide receiver in 2004 with 96 catches. Unlike Owens, Mason attends to matters quietly and effectively. He left the showboat in the showroom.

In 2005, third-year quarterback Kyle Boller, has been given the tools to succeed—a stable offensive line, proven receivers, and (most importantly) an offensive coordinator in Jim Fassel who specializes in developing young QBs, and whose schemes can’t help but serve as an improvement over Matt Cavanaugh’s frustratingly predicable approach,

This coming week, the Ravens face the Eagles in a preseason game. Like all preseason football games, this one will tell us little about how the teams are likely to play in the regular season. But while the Ravens have the opportunity to run their complete squad out there in pads, if only for the first few drives, Owens can stay at home, extending his week off into a bridge-burning holdout. As Boller completes passes to Mason or Clayton, Owens can bust out his pompoms or whip a Sharpie out of his sock in his living room as he makes plays on his PlayStation 2, staring at McNabb’s face on the box.

Better still, given his penchant for choreography, maybe he should consider an audition for ABC’s Dancing With the Stars.

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More from Gabriel Wardell

Parting Shots (9/14/2005)
The easiest way to tell when Tim McCarver is going to be wrong about something is to note when he is speaking.

Macro and Micro (9/7/2005)
The "Oriole Way" has become synonymous with "half-assed."

Choker’s Wild (8/31/2005)
Wild Card Races Are Bullshit.

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