49er Receiver’s step up with Rice gone, and Owens discovers he’s human

Nov 3, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Going back to the roots of this season starting in training camp, the San Francisco 49er’s knew that without veteran Jerry Rice, that this young receiving corps. Would be a new flower to care for and help blossom.

Tremendous amounts of expectations and new responsibilities would fall on veteran receivers such as Terrell Owens and J.J. Stokes to carry those cherished duties.

One talented but raw rookie wide receiver that competed in 49er training camp at the University of the Pacific was Montana’s Jimmy Farris, he’s affectionately referred to as the team’s “white receiver”; after a career with Montana with which he made 129 receptions for 2.233 yards and 21 touchdowns.

He was also named first-team All-Big Sky Conference as a senior; he was never invited to the NFL combine workshop. But he catches everything in sight, and his humorous impersonations have made him most popular among his 49er teammates. He is now a member of the 49er practice squad.

He participated through the first two weeks of training camp, flourishing because both J.J. Stokes and Tai Streets were out due to hamstring injuries. He made an impact at training camp right out from the beginning, and at the same time made some prominent friends in veteran players on the team.

He has made some acrobatic, over-the-shoulder catches while with the 49er’s. He’s juked veteran cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage. And he even made one team official say under his breath: “That little (guy) catches everything.”

The even more funny thing about Jimmy Farris is his resemblance to quarterback Jeff Garcia, having red hair himself he can side step a few people and do a impersonation of him as well. “Some fans have given me Jeff pictures and say, “Will you sign this?” Said Farris., whose 6-foot, 200-pound frame is topped with red hair.

One veteran that took a liking to Farris was Terrell Owens, whom Farris would eventually confide in and look up to. They both bonded as Farris reminded Owens of what it was like to be just starting out and to have nothing in your pocket for money.

Farris one day told Owens about the isolation and monotony of training camp and how bored it was to be stuck inside a dorm room. “I said to him one of the worst things for me in training camp is I don’t ever get to watch TV. I don’t get a newspaper and I rarely get to talk to friends and family,” Farris said. “I came back to my room after practice the next day and there was a brand new, 35-inch TV in my room all hooked up that (Owens) got for me.”

Owens was taken away by this young athlete, and he reminded Owens of his roots as a football player, and how he could best teach and be a role model for him to look up to. Although he said he did it without any strings attached, he established a sound and mature relationship with this young talent.

“I know how it is being a rookie. The new guys don’t have the money yet,” said Owens, who arranged for a furniture rental company to take care of Farris television withdrawal. “I’m a guy who does things from his heart. I wasn’t doing it to show off.”

“The thing was when I came to training camp I didn’t even care where I was on the depth chart,” Farris said. “I just wanted to do everything I can every day; run the right routes, listen in the meetings and say my prayers and work hard.”

He made such an impact on the players that even quarterback Jeff Garcia took time out with him, giving him a pair of his own cleats. He was salvaged when the 49er’s made their final cuts to trim the roster landing on the practice squad. And he is solid insurance should we have a receiver in trouble.

One of Terrell Owens passions is the dream of someday playing in the NBA; he has always used basketball as a means of conditioning before each season and during. He has many key friends in the professional organization and dreams of playing.

“I felt like if I don’t give it my best shot, I’m going to regret it,” said the 27-year-old Owens, who played pro-summer league games this summer with teammates such as Charlotte Hornets guard Baron Davis, former UCLA star Ed O’Bannon and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez.

Owens was also inspired after playing in one game with Magic Johnson’s all-star team, the first time he had played on the same court with the NBA legend. Since then he has had thoughts of being a professional basketball player.

“I didn’t make the impression (I wanted to make in the summer league), but at the same time, I didn’t embarrass myself out there,” said Owens, who played all three years at Tennessee-Chattanooga and started five games for them the year the Mocs went to the NCAA Tournament in 1995. He also had won the celebrity slam dunk contest at the 2000 NBA All-Star game in Oakland.

So to say that Owens is simply just a professional football player is a under statement if there ever was one. Many athletes today test their abilities in different markets and venues but what each and every athlete must determine is the mold that they are the absolute best at and stick with it, from both a financial and emotional standpoint. Owens seems to be a player with keen curiosity, but has abilities that are more than one dimensional also.

J.J. Stokes continues to be a focal point in this 49er offense, as he has battled many predetermined conceptions about his true ability as a receiver. This is his seventh season as a 49er and he is determined despite early injury to be at top form.

“That’s the most annoying thing is the fact that I was in such great condition and was ready to go,” said Stokes, 29, who began his annual off-season regimen with personal trainer Raymond Farris (the same trainer employed by Rice) on Feb 1st. “I think I worked on my overall game in the summer, so I didn’t really need to (work on things) in camp. I just wanted to get in the time and the games. I was pretty confident in everything that would go down or could go down.” Well he did go down with hamstring injury once again.

Stokes continues to be the elusive receiver we have yet to see duplicate his 1997 totals in production, many believe that he will never happen again. That the time and energy spent on him is all for nothing. He has born the brunt of this controversy for some time now and relishes the opportunity to bear fruit.

His relationship with quarterback Jeff Garcia remains an odd one, as both needs to look to one another more so than they have. It took Garcia and Owens almost a year to get comfortable with each other; it will take time with Stokes as well. But he must remain healthy.

“I think anytime with your quarterback is valuable, and I’ve really missed out on that,” Stokes said. “As soon as I completely feel better, I’ll hopefully be out there after practice working with him. I think now that I’m in the mix more, he’ll feel more of a comfort level with me.”

What has been an interesting progress in action is seventh round pick rookie tight end Eric Johnson; he has been rotating with Justin Swift in place of Greg Clark because of injury. Clark has been out since August 14th, due to surgery to detach a troublesome hamstring tendon. Johnson also happens to be an avid golfer and goes to that whenever he has time.

Johnson switched positions from wide receiver at Yale to playing tight end with the 49er’s, he holds 11 receiving records at Yale. Johnson was former general manager’s Bill Walsh’s last selection and earned the nickname “Bill’s son” It was Bill who was enamored with Johnson after watching tape of him, which included a 21-catch performance against rival Harvard.

Johnson made a diving catch in the end zone in the closing moments for a 24-21 victory. This is where Johnson received his nod from the best draftsman in the business Bill Walsh.

The deal on Stokes is that this season may be his best opportunity to succeed since 1997 when Jerry Rice was lost for most of the season with two knee injuries. Stokes and Terrell Owens shared the load in the passing game, even though Mariucci went conservative in the passing game.

“I think they were nervous,” Stokes said. “They had a second-year guy and a third-year guy in there and nobody really gave us a chance.” Owens had 60 catches, while Stokes added 58. The next season with Rice on the field, Stokes had a better season with 63 receptions for 770 yards and eight touchdowns.

Soon after this something weird happened. Stokes signed a five-year, $16.5 million contract with a $4.5 million signing bonus and disappeared. Although he was healthy, Stokes was the team’s fourth-leading receiver in 1999 and the sixth-leading receiver in 2000. He has had just 64 receptions the past two seasons and clearly does not have an on-field rapport with Garcia yet.

Missing all the valuable preparation time with Garcia in training camp due to his hamstring injury has cost him a lot he believes. “For sure, we needed the pre-season to get some good work in,” Stokes said. “But I didn’t have that luxury. Now I’m taking the (approach) that I’ve got to be that much more open so that there’s more room for mistakes or the ball not being where I think it should be.” “I expect to be open regardless but I think other teams will focus on (Owens) and allow me to get open and make some big plays. If I can make big plays they can’t pay all the attention to him.”

“When (the injury) first happened. I figured it would be a day or two,” Stokes said. “It’s just a freak thing. I got tangled up with some guys in practice and the next thing you know I’m out for weeks. I really felt great coming in, it was just one of those things.”

“I think J.J. Stokes is going to be fine,” added the head coach. “I would have preferred that he participated more in training camp, but what are you going to do with a hamstring? I think he’s ready. He seems to be ready. He’s running at full speed. I’m hoping the hamstring holds up. I think it will.”

Stokes found his moment in glory in the regular season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, with the 49er’s trailing 13-3 early in the fourth quarter, Stokes released on a go pattern and hauled in a 47-yard pass over defender Chris Daft at the Falcons 11. After a 49er’s penalty and a run for no gain, quarterback Jeff Garcia found Stokes again, this time in the end zone.

“I’m getting the ball; it’s a beautiful thing when you get the ball,” said Stokes of his rare burst of emotional fire. “It just came out of me, man. When you want to make plays, and you’ve been waiting to make plays, and you’ve been waiting to make plays and the ball comes to you get it; I was just excited for the opportunity.”

Stokes was elated when the 49er’s finally released Jerry Rice this season, he has always admired Rice but knows that his opportunities were severely limited with him on the roster for another year. Even though Stokes was on the field a lot last season with Rice, he never got warm to being the 49er’s third receiver.

“I felt like I got opportunities but I would have liked more,” he said. “Being the third receiver you don’t get as many as the first two choices. It was definitely frustrating because I always felt I had the talent to get it done. But you’re in, and then you’re out. You never really have a chance to get in the groove.”

Tai Streets also showed great promise in the opening game against Atlanta, as he is now listed the third receiver formerly Stokes position. On a critical third-and-five on the opening overtime drive, the fleet second-year receiver crossed the middle as the hot read on the blitz and Garcia hit him in stride.
He shot down the right side like a missile for 52 yards to the Falcons 23. Five plays later, rookie kicker Jose Cortez kicked the game-winning 24-yard field goal. “I knew I had to look hot with Jeff under pressure,” Streets assessed. 'I was just trying to make a play. It wasn’t anything spectacular.”

Well I beg to differ with you Tai, you looked fabulous in that play and many more, the reason being is that you possess incredible burst of speed, and separation from defenders is just breathtaking. I now that I was in awe at the speed in which you brought that ball for 52-yards.

Was Streets as inclined to say he liked Jerry gone? Well you would not believe that he didn’t like it, in fact he defended Rice and admitted great respect for the veteran receiver.

“I don’t want to say that, because personally I’ve learned so much from Jerry,” he said. “Of course, you look forward to more opportunities, but you can’t say you’re glad Jerry went away. It’s not like that.”

Stokes also mildly responded again to such a question, when asked about Rice, as he was the most effected in position wise with his departure? “I think definitely both sides benefit from it,” he said. “The Raiders got a great player, and it’s allowed some of the young guys on this team to step up and make plays. That’s all we ever wanted.”

What was most apparent in the first game is that both Stokes and Streets proved what the second and third receivers can do when presented the opportunity. Stokes caught five passes for 93 yards and the only touchdown. And Streets grabbed three passes for 81 yards, setting up kicker Jose Cortez’s winning field goal.

What has been frustrating is tight end Greg Clark being sidelined for most of the year; he underwent hamstring surgery back in August for the third time in six months and still remains on the sideline. When this was first announced Mariucci said a worst case scenario would put him out for six weeks, well that scenario has been blown away, he remains on the sideline.

Clark, who remains on the physically unable to perform list, had portions of hamstring tendon removed from both legs in February and March. He continued to have problems with tightness in his right hamstring, leading to further surgery to repair the medial hamstring tendon.

This has created the need to play second-year tight end Justin Swift and seventh-round pick Eric Johnson in the tight end slot, both have contributed greatly, and I am impressed so far with Johnson’s development, he may very well be the future at this position.
Something Walsh I am sure envisioned when he drafted him as his last pick. He is greatly anticipated as the heir to this position, Greg Clark continues his long standing of unhealthiness and paper-thin durability finding and drafting a replacement was a real logical solution to this recurring situation.

Now let’s go back to Week Two following the horrible tragedy in the terrorist attacks on America, it was the St. Louis Rams in 3-Com Park the division power house that we have been unable to obtain a victory from the past two seasons. It was here that the 49er receiving unit wanted to draw a line in the sand, and dare them to cross it. Well they did cross it and they burned us yet again in a 30-26 loss.

If you wondered who was to blame it was a combination of things, but what really stood out was the poor playing of our receiving unit as they combined to drop seven passes in this game to seal our fate. Terrell Owens took it to heart and sat in front of his locker for nearly two hours after the game, blaming himself for this defeat.

The emotional anguish was written all over his face, teammates tried to console him but it was for nothing as they even knew it would take time to heal this open wound. Owens felt personally responsible as he dropped four of the seven passes, in a game that could have easily gone either way.

Either way even quarterback Jeff Garcia tried to take some of the heat saying on the final drive he was confused as to the play calling and could have contributed to the final outcome of this regrettable loss.

“I owe the team an apology,” Owens said. “I can say I lost the game for the team, despite what anybody else may say. The things I do on the field can make or break us. And I know that. I’ve won games for this team, but obviously I don’t want to lose any for this team.”

The list of shame is long as J.J. Stokes and tight end Eric Johnson dropped two passes apiece as well. Quarterback Jeff Garcia admitted to ample confusion on the final offensive drive of the game. With 6:47 left, on a third-and-four from the St. Louis 15, Garcia threw the ball away, even though Owens said he was open. The 49er’s settled for a field goal, and the Rams ran out the clock.

“He was kind of confused on the play because we were in the huddle and he was telling me to run one route, and I was like, 'Jeff, that’s not the right play,” said Owens, adding that he was an “emotional wreck” when the game began because of pre-game ceremonies in memory of the recent victims of terrorism.”

“On the film, he was motioning to his left side and he should have been motioning to his right side,” Owens said. “He was obviously confused about the play. That was the play, possibly if he had hit me, I could have scored on.”

Up until this game the snags in the development of the 49er’s have always fallen upon the youth on this team, but this time the blame fell on the veterans of this team. The 49er’s gained more yards from the Ram’s penalties (92) than they got from their starting wideouts (56), and most of their dropped passes occurred at critical points.
Owens first drop, on the second play of the second quarter, ricocheted to the hands of Ram’s linebacker Mark Fields for an interception, resulting in a field goal. Owens second did no harm. His third helped to sink the 49er’s chances for a touchdown just before halftime. And his fourth cam on third down, killing a drive at the start of the fourth quarter. Both of Stokes dropped passes also came on third-down plays and killed drives.

After the post-game meeting with teammates Owens drove back to 49er headquarters to watch tape of the game, to try and find out why he dropped so many key passes. He was still distraught over the loss as it burned a hole right through to his soul.

Mariucci commented as to why Owens sat in front of his locker for so long in a daze: “He was just in the tank, that’s all,” Coach Steve Mariucci said. “He wants to play perfectly. He’s a perfectionist, so he was disappointed, that’s all.”

Owens added: “When other players aren’t playing well, I know I need to step up my game. There were opportunities I had, and I felt I could have had more opportunities. I’ve just got to worry about Terrell.”

This is a real definition of a veteran player, someone that takes the game seriously and with accountability, I am proud of what Owens has admitted to and how he has treated this situation. He obviously cares about the subject of winning when he puts himself through so much turmoil. This is what molds a true champion, someone that will comeback and makes a difference.

Owens rebounded on Monday Night Football against the New York Jets catching four balls and a touchdown in a victory in that game, and then put on a big top show in the October 7th, game against George Seifert’s Panthers. In which he caught eight receptions for 118 yards including two touchdowns in the 49er 24-14 victory.

“This was a big game,” Owens said, “but the best is yet to come. Beating a division opponent like this feels good. But I’ll say it again, with this team the best is yet to come.”

This is the Terrell Owens the 49er’s need a big, fast and glue fingered wide receiver that cannot be stopped when on a mission, a playmaker that makes situations better because they will it to happen, much in the same mold as Jerry Rice.

How talented is Owens? We’re still learning that even up to today. Last season Owens caught 97 passes for 1,451 yards, and most likely would have gone over the coveted century mark had he not sat out a game after he was suspended for hot-dogging in Dallas.

On October 14th, the 49er’s would meet the Atlanta Falcons yet again in a game that would be filled with retribution from their opening loss to the 49er’s in overtime. The 49er’s trailed the Falcons in the Georgia Dome by 13 points after halftime.

It would be a second half the Falcons would never forget courtesy of Terrell Owens; the 49er’s would turn to their elite playmaker when it counted the most. After halftime, he caught nine passes for 183 yards, including a 52-yard winner in overtime, as the 49er’s rallied for a stirring 37-31 victory before a disappointed Atlanta crowd.

“I’ve got a lot of faith in my abilities, and myself” said Owens, who has never given anyone any reason to think differently. “I wasn’t going to let (the silent first half) shake me.”

He caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from Garcia on a third-and-one play in the final minute of the third quarter, drawing the 49er’s to within a field goal. He then caught a 17-yard Garcia pass with 17 seconds left in the fourth quarter, forcing overtime.

And then; not long after the 49er’s fumbled away an opportunity to win the game in overtime, Owens faked a slant pattern, shaking off Falcons veteran cornerback Ray Buchanan in the process. Now, Owens was wide open on the right sideline, Garcia found him, and Owens high-stepped his way for the final 30 yards to the end zone for the victory.

Owens was simply amazing in this game a career high three touchdowns, he made this game a thriller to say the least, he was held without a reception until the third quarter and then he exploded. This is a game that was close to being lost, but Owens stepped up and made a huge difference.

“We have some great receivers,” Garcia said. “J.J.; I know he didn’t get many opportunities today, but he will. He’ll continue to work hard, and I want to get him the ball.” “T.O. is just T.O. The guy is outstanding. He’s shown that he’s somebody to be reckoned with out on the field and Tai Streets is another guy who has tremendous skills.”

Owens has openly stated that his ambitions and records do not matter but should the team win is more important, this is another indication of his sincerity and devotion to the team. He strives for perfection but realizes that he is human, most of the time he finds this out the hard way like he did against St. Louis and most recently against Chicago in overtime.

“This is what makes a win even that much better, when you can pull it out at the end,” Owens said. “We’re just going out their making plays regardless if it’s me and Jeff, Jeff and Tai, or Jeff and J.J. Today, everybody made plays.”

Owens untouched ran into the end zone in Atlanta, and up to the goal post for a slam dunk was just one of the many highlights we are to expect of him this season. I hope that he will learn from his mistakes and be the ultimate receiver in this league.

Owens was again tested just recently in our game against the Chicago Bears, last season he ran rampant over the Bear secondary in San Francisco in the last home game of the 2000 season for 20 receptions.

The Bears remembered and answered the call coming into this game on top of their division at (4-1). Chicago Bears Safety Mike Brown was there in overtime to pick off a Jeff Garcia pass to Terrell Owens that he bobbled, allowing Brown to take it untouched into the end zone to end the game.

This was quite the contrast to what we had just done in Atlanta, now we were on the other side of the spectrum watching the other team wallow in their accomplished glory, winning 37-31 in overtime.

When Brown crossed the goal line, he held up the ball in celebration and the rest of the Bears rushed out to him. Brown then took a victory trot around the edge of the end zone, stopping to acknowledge the roaring fans.

“You couldn’t ask for a better defense to run that play against, and you couldn’t ask for a worse outcome, said Garcia, whose team led 28-9 in the third quarter, only to lose in a 16 second overtime that is by one second the shortest in NFL history.

"If we execute it cleanly and he makes a move on the safety, he might take it all the way,” Garcia said. “He just wasn’t able to corral it and Mike Brown was there to make a play out of it. I couldn’t believe it.”

Owens was quick to acknowledge that he was the reason and that he should have made that catch: “I knew I was open and the ball went low. I tried to dig it out and I don’t know what happened,” Owens said. “I probably should have made that play.”

No correction Terrell you should have made that play, of all the adoration I have for Owens and his remarkable escapades and unbelievable receptions, this is one that should not have gotten away.

I however want to acknowledge that this game should not have gone to this extreme, this game should not have made overtime, as we had this game won from the beginning, it was our defense that rose to the challenge but broke in half in the third and fourth quarters.

Mike Brown’s view: “Owens was running a slant and he just dropped the ball. The ball went into the air and fell into my hands. I just tried to get into the end zone.”

In the game’s last 23 minutes, the Bears outscored the 49er’s 28-3. With Shane Matthews replacing injured starter Jim Miller at quarterback, the Bears (5-1) rallied past the 49er’s (4-2) for their biggest comeback victory since overcoming a 20-point deficit to beat Tampa Bay in 1987.

Again blowing a 19-point lead is a team effort not just one player’s like Terrell Owens, although we would like to pin the blame sometimes on just one player, this is where you know it was more than just Owens. Yes he should have caught the ball, and he should have made a huge play with the ball, but somehow it was not meant to be.

Rather Owens lost concentration or direction is not certain, he knows he made an error and is working hard to try and overcome it. It will not be easy, for this was a defeat that aches right from the gut. When you have a team beat and allow them to steamroll in the second half is ludicrous. This is where we must adopt tougher and stricter standards and accountability, regardless of injuries.

This young defense has kept this team in contention over the past few weeks. But it cannot be expected to do it every week, there comes a time when the offense must pick up the baton and run with it. This was a case where on this particular Sunday it did otherwise.

The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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