- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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OXNARD, Calif. -- Fourteen years of dealing with NFL receivers have turned Drew Bledsoe, an English major at Washington State, into an amateur psychologist.
"The receiver position in general has volatile guys who are highly competitive and often don't touch the ball as much as they want to," Bledsoe said. "I've dealt with a lot of these guys. Eric Moulds could be a pain in the butt at times. I had Keyshawn Johnson. I had Terry Glenn when he was young and went through some stuff. He's a different guy now. That's just the nature of the position."
By season's end, Bledsoe probably will be able to hang up a shingle and start a clinic. Or he might need counseling, because now he has to deal with Terrell Owens, who has trashed his former 49ers quarterback, Jeff Garcia, and ripped apart Donovan McNabb's locker room in Philadelphia. America's Team is adjusting to the NFL's greatest headache.
His entrance Saturday in Oxnard, Calif., was typical T.O. Thousands of Cowboys fans chanted "T.O., T.O., T.O" as Owens -- always the last player to run onto the field in practice -- raced to the field. He electrified the crowd with a 70-yard catch.
For skills, he's a dream. Owens is a rare combination of size, speed, breakaway ability, hand-eye coordination and hands. But as a teammate, he can be a nightmare. Jerry Jones bought the whole package for $25 million over three seasons. Bill Parcells and Bledsoe have to deal with the good and the bad.
"You don't think I haven't been observing and watching," Parcells said. "You have to live in a closet to not know some of the things. You look at it. He's here. So my job is to get that player into the system and get him going. There is no magic formula dealing with radical players. You approach it honestly and go from there."
Owens couldn't have been nicer at the opening of camp. He was smiling, accommodating and friendly. Early in practice, Bledsoe went over to Owens and said, "Get ready to have some fun." Owens didn't have to run to a publisher to claim quarterback harassment.
"Regardless of the opinions and speculation, I'm going to be myself," Owens said. "I have nothing to prove. I mean, the sky is the limit to me. Let's say the star is the limit."
Oh, yes, "The Star." Owens, while a member of the 49ers, celebrated by spiking the ball on the Cowboys star at midfield of Texas Stadium after a touchdown. Bledsoe knows there will be problems with Owens. Parcells can't guarantee a successful relationship but he feels good about the Owens experience so far.
"I've had success with these type of players," Parcells said about dealing with high maintenance players. "All of these players that you would be referring to had one common trait: they respond to competition. If a player doesn't respond to competition, I can not deal with them. Those guys, once you show them where the competition is, most of them would respond favorably to it."
Owens had a blast Saturday competing against cornerback Terence Newman and safety Roy Williams, who ironically is the player whose tackle broke Owens' leg and created the opportunity for his heroic recovery to play in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Patriots.
"Eyes are always on me, and that doesn't bother me," Owens said.
Owens wouldn't field any questions about the Eagles or Donovan McNabb. He handled that in his book. "There was a lot of things I've gotten off my chest," Owens said. "I'm stress free at this point."
So are Parcells and Bledsoe, but they know storms are on the horizon. Owens won't change. He wants the ball. He wants to win. He wants it all. Parcells and Bledsoe won't change either. Parcells is the master of getting into players' heads. Bledsoe is an old-school quarterback not afraid to keep his huddle quiet and point out mistakes to his receivers.
Naturally, Bledsoe was asked how he would respond if Owens gave him the "Dude, you missed me" which led to McNabb's telling Owens to "Shut the 'bleep' up."
"Well, if he's right, I'll say he's right and I'll get him on the next one," Bledsoe said. "If he's wrong, I'll tell him why I didn't throw it where he wanted it. Usually, I'm the one that goes and says something to a receiver."
Bledsoe was asked if he would ever tell a receiver to shut up.
"If they need to be told that," Bledsoe answered affirmatively.
It's funny listening to Parcells during press conferences because he won't even mention T.O.'s name. For two days, reporters tried to poke and probe about the subject, and Parcells was very open about it, but he would never mention Owens by name.
"I've always tried to give people the same consideration," Parcells said. "I judge somebody from what I see. The most I can ask from him is to be honest to me. I'm going to be honest to him."
Owens may be explosive enough to destroy a locker room but he's clearly explosive enough as a player to ignite an offense, too. He has the potential to average 20 yards a catch for the season and is explosive after the catch.
"The receiver position in general has volatile guys who are highly competitive and often don't touch the ball as much as they want to. I've dealt with a lot of these guys. Eric Moulds could be a pain in the butt at times. I had Keyshawn Johnson. I had Terry Glenn when he was young and went through some stuff. He's a different guy now. That's just the nature of the position."
Drew Bledsoe, Cowboys QB on Terrell Owens
Despite being 6-3, 224 pounds, Owens can turn a 10-yard look-in pass into a touchdown. Observers marvel at his ability to accelerate after two steps. His run-after-catch ability makes him special.
The biggest question circulating around Cowboys camp is how much the Cowboys will pass the ball this season. Bledsoe's history with Parcells indicates that the Cowboys offense will feature plenty of passes. Bledsoe has thrown as many as 691 passes in a season for Parcells in the New England days. Last year, Bledsoe threw 499, but the Cowboys didn't make the playoffs.
But Parcells wants to run more. "I look at the champion of the league [Steelers] -- it's the team that threw the fewest passes," Parcells said. "This game doesn't change much."
The Cowboys passed the ball on 52 percent of their downs last year, and the plan is to be closer to 50-50 this season. They invested a second-round choice in tight end Anthony Fasano of Notre Dame and expect to use more two-tight end sets this season. It helps when the other tight end is Pro Bowler Jason Witten.
"I would say we are going to be closer to 50-50 as far as running and passing just because of the weapons we have," Witten said. "We're going to feed each other. When teams start getting in that Cover 2 and double covering Terrell [Owens], now I think that is going to let Julius Jones and Marion Barber to get some yards in there."
But will there be enough balls to please T.O. Bledsoe averaged 34 passes a game last season. He completed 60.1 percent of them. That leaves 20 to 21 receptions a game. Witten usually gets four because Parcells loves the tight end. Backs out of the backfield usually get about the same. Glenn will probably get about four or five. The third receiver and second tight end can expect three. That could leave only four or five catches a game for Owens.
Will that be enough?
Probably not. For now, though, the T.O. experience is all smiles. Stay tuned.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
18hEric D. Williams