T.O. plans to play without any ankle guards
"He's not going to be out there on crutches. If he's out, he's going to be able to run and play," the Patriots' Bill Belichick said Friday in the final coaches' news conference before the NFL title game. "Whether we can cover him or not, that remains to be seen. But they're not going to put the guy out there in a wheelchair."
The Philadelphia Eagles' All-Pro receiver caught a few long passes and spent substantial time on the field during Thursday's 1-hour, 22-minute practice getting ready to play in the Super Bowl against the Patriots.
"T.O. looked better today," Eagles coach Andy Reid said Thursday. "He got more work than yesterday. He was a little stiff. He played hard yesterday, but today he was great."
However, Reid said he might not start.
"Whether he starts or not, that's irrelevant, I think, right now," Reid said. "We've got it broken down by different plays we'd like to see him in there. If one of those happens to be the first play, it's the first play, and if not, then Freddie [Mitchell] will be there.
"We'll get [T.O.] there, " Reid said of Sunday's game. "We'll warm him up and see how he does."
Owens has been sidelined since Dec. 19 with an ankle injury and broken leg. He has said repeatedly he will play against the Patriots, even though the surgeon who operated on his ankle in December wouldn't clear him to suit up.
Owens has two screws and a plate in his right leg. He won't wear any kind of ankle guard Sunday, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer report.
"Not at all," he told the newspaper. "I've been practicing without any tape, just my sneakers and socks. I'm ready to go."
He had a different attitude toward a possible injection, though.
"I think a lot of guys take shots to ease the pain a little bit, and if that's possible, I may do that," Owens told the Inquirer. "My threshold for pain is real high, but if I feel like I need it, then I will. But if not, I won't do it. It will be a game-time decision."
In his first season with the Eagles after eight years in San Francisco, Owens led Philadelphia with 77 catches for 1,200 yards and 14 TDs and made the Pro Bowl.
"We've seen plenty of him," Belichick said. "Owens has had a great year and played a lot before the Dallas game. He had big games in virtually every game he played in until that point. We understand what he's capable of doing. We expect him to be at his best. We expect all the other players to be at their best if they're on the field and we'll try to defend accordingly."
Some New England-based medical specialists told The Boston Globe on Thursday that the Eagles have an "ethical obligation" to heed the recommendations of Owens' surgeon that Owens not play.
The Globe's experts were pessimistic about Owens' preparedness to play, and raised serious concerns about his chances of suffering a career-ending injury by trying to return too soon.
"No matter how good of a healer he says he is, it doesn't change his anatomy," said Dr. Tammy Martin, orthopedics chief for the Boston Veterans Affairs health care system and doctor for several college teams. "You can't with any good medical common sense allow someone like him to play."
However, University of Pennsylvania medical ethicist Arthur Caplan said the decision should ultimately be Owens', not the team's.
"They have to ask Owens how bad he wants to play in this game. Is he willing to put his whole career and income on the line?" Caplan told the Globe. "In America, you get a lot of discretion to make bad choices."
The Boston-area experts told the paper Owens would not be able to accurately gauge the health of his ankle, which they say remains highly vulnerable to injury.
"He could suffer a career-ending injury if someone hits him in a certain way below the knee," said Dr. William Morgan, the former Red Sox team doctor who devised the temporary fix that allowed Curt Schilling to pitch in the American League Championship Series and World Series.
According to the experts interviewed by the Globe, the torn ligament in Owens' ankle will make it harder for him to pivot and change direction while running
"I will say that sometimes, even with the most determined player, subconsciously the body keeps you from doing what you want to do or what you think you can do," said Dr. Chris Chiodo, a foot and ankle specialist at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "He thinks he can get out there, he may have all the drive in the world, but his body won't let him."
Weakside linebacker Mark Simoneau, who missed the last two games with a strained ankle, also took part in the Eagles' practice Thursday.
Belichick said the Patriots would fill their remaining spot by promoting offensive lineman Billy Yates to the 53-man roster. He is listed as a guard, but the Patriots previously had only two tackles on the roster and he could be used as a backup there.
The 24-year-old Yates appeared in three games for Miami in 2003 and was released by the Dolphins on Sept. 5. The Patriots signed him to their practice squad a week later.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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