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Jauron goes all in on T.O.

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DANA POINT, Calif.

In another time, in another place, Buffalo Bills coach Dick Jauron might have had a very different Tuesday morning. After all, it was only 17 days ago that the Bills surprised the NFL world by signing wide receiver Terrell Owens to a one-year, $6.5 million contract just two days after being released by the Dallas Cowboys. If this was a normal NFL league meeting, Jauron would likely have been besieged by the media at the AFC coaches' breakfast, which began at 7:15 a.m. Pacific time Tuesday. However, things were quiet at numerous tables, including Jauron's, thanks to the media horde surrounding Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels. So, for Jauron, the questions certainly came at him regarding the acquisition of Owens. They were just asked and his answers heard by far fewer people.
When that was mentioned to Jauron, he wryly said, "That's good. I enjoyed my breakfast." As for Owens, Jauron continued to downplay anything negative about Owens and chose to only accentuate the positive. "I think his numbers speak for themselves," Jauron said. "You're not going to find that. If you look at the free-agent market and turn to the college draft, no one in the college draft has caught a pass. He's got 951 (receptions), 38 touchdowns in three years, 139 in his career. Those are really staggering numbers." Jauron said he didn't seek anyone else's opinion before signing off on the decision to pursue Owens. He said, "There are a lot of reasons. Three of them I just gave you: 951, 139 and 38 in three. There's just as much positive said about him by his teammates and by people who have been associated with him as there is negative. The negatives are all exposed and are constantly exposed because we know it sells. So I don't need any more information on that." However, Jauron acknowledged being contacted by Calvin Hill, who oversees the Cowboys' player development program. Said Jauron, "I spoke to him shortly after (Owens was signed) and he called me. We've known each other a long time. I asked Calvin, 'The media will ask who I talked to. Is it OK if I use you on it?' and he said absolutely. I spoke with Calvin and I have a great deal of respect for him as a person and a football person, and it was obviously positive." Asked what Hill said, Jauron responded, "Nothing that you don't know. I'm not going to tell you anything you don't know. He told me a lot of things he felt, a lot of things that are private between us. He also told me (Owens) was the hardest worker that he had ever seen, which is not news to anybody in terms of this player. He has a driving desire to win." Considering the talent, and the fact Owens signed a one-year deal, Jauron insists, "I don't see it as a great risk. I'll go back to the three numbers." But what about the three teams that have let him go? Said Jauron, "Three teams that have won a lot of games." Jauron knows there are no guarantees, and said he was up front with Owens when they talked. "The only way that I've addressed it is to tell him that it's a new chapter in his book," Jauron said. "It's a new chapter in our book. We will write it ourselves. I don't address it other than that, and it's not any different than, really, anybody that comes to us. We understand the differences between Terrell and other people that have come to us. I don't know that in my experience I've ever been anywhere as a coach — certainly not as a head coach — that acquired a veteran player that had those numbers. Those numbers in our game are really incredible. "We're aware of his skills. We're aware of the focus on him. We'll have to deal with that. Some of them are issues that are front-office issues, media department issues. The size of the coverage will increase. Other than that, it's just football for us, and from that part of it you've never heard anything but the best — his work ethic, his work habits, which really translates to leadership on the field, the way he practices. When asked how quarterback Trent Edwards can be protected from the potential of Owens' wrath, Jauron said simply, "Trent will be capable of protecting himself. We're a football team. He's not alone. All those issues, we're not planning on this going the way you're saying it's going to go. We're planning on it working. If it doesn't work, just like any player we bring in, we'll deal with it when it comes up." Told he is bucking history, Jauron concluded, "That's all right. I don't mind bucking history."

Rule changes

In some quick voting Tuesday morning, the league approved four changes in rules that affect player safety.
  • On kickoffs, at least three players must be lined up outside each inbounds line (hash marks), one of whom must be outside the yard-line number. That normally occurs on regular kickoffs, but the new rule also applies to onside kicks.
  • On kickoffs, after the ball is kicked, no more than two receiving team players may intentionally form a wedge in an attempt to block for the runner. An illegal wedge is defined as three or more players lined up shoulder-to-shoulder within two yards of each other.
  • It will be considered an illegal blindside block if the initial force of the contact by a blocker's helmet, forearm or shoulder is to the head or neck area of an opponent when the blocker is moving toward his own end line, and he approaches the opponent from behind or from the side.
  • There will be unnecessary roughness if the initial force of the contact by a defender's helmet, forearm, or shoulder is to the head or neck area of a defenseless receiver who is catching or attempting to catch a pass." This rule adds forearm or shoulder contact to helmet-to-helmet hits.

    Zebra hunting

    In the face of growing criticism of NFL officiating, Mike Pereira continues to insist the league's officials do an excellent job. In his yearly presentation to the media, Pereira, who is retiring this year as the director of officiating, said during the 2008 season, officials graded out to 98.1 percent. That was down from 98.3 percent in 2007, which was a league record. Said Pereira, "Do I think the officiating was bad? No. "But we had some train wrecks and train wrecks hurt you." That was in reference to the errant call in the Week 2 San Diego-Denver game where a fumble should have been called instead of an incomplete pass. The other was at the end of the Week 11 Pittsburgh-San Diego game when a touchdown was scored and overturned, when it should have stood. "They hurt perception," Pereira admitted. "It was hard getting through Week 2. That's what we have to avoid this year." Pereira further noted that there were about 37,000 plays last season, which means approximately 740 plays, or close to three a game, had questionable calls. He reiterated that points of emphasis for the officials for 2009 will be on horse-collar tackles and penalties for holding. Last season, there were 24 flags for horse collars, which was an increase from 12 the year before. However, there were 47 fines for such tackles. Pereira said, "That's just too high a number. We have not been effective in terms of stopping the tactic." As for holding infractions, Pereira acknowledged there are problems with some crews calling more holding than others. "It's one area we need to find consistency from crew to crew," Pereira said. Asked about the perception that last season had poor officiating, Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who is also co-chair of the competition committee, said, "Clearly, I'm close to it. I've seen nothing but improvement since Mike Pereira has taken over. He's working towards consistency. We're always going to have questions, debatable calls. That's the human element of the game. They're going to make mistakes. I make mistakes. That's the way it is. But we've seen nothing but more and more consistency year in and year out in that department."

    No time to savor success

    With all the talk about change in the NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wishes something could be done about the bedlam that occurs following the Super Bowl. As a coach, he would like there to be some way for the winning team to have some time, however brief, to savor the moment together immediately after the game. "It's a shame," Tomlin said. "I would want to go into the locker room and share the experience with the players and people that matter most. In the midst of it all, the great spectacle that it is, I think some of that is lost. By the time I got to the locker room the vast majority of the guys were out of the locker room, and that's a shame because ultimately at the end of the day it's about the sacrifices of the men in that room that get you to that point. There's got to be a way that you could be able to retain that element of it and at the same time give the fans of the game what they need. "It's not necessarily what's required of you on the stage, it's what's required of you after that as you go from interview to interview and obligation to obligation. It was probably roughly an hour and a half after the game before I got to the locker room. When you have an opportunity to be a part of something like that, you appreciate the selflessness of the group and you would love an opportunity to bask in the collective achievement of the group and I think that's lost under the current setup." Howard Balzer is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than three decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a senior NFL writer for The Sports Xchange.
  • Tagged: Terrell Owens, Titans, Steelers, Bills, Trent Edwards, Broncos

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