Moss is looking comfortable in a 49ers uniform
Randy Moss and Terrell Owens – two of the best wide receivers ever to play the game – both entered this summer aiming to take the NFC West by storm this year. That won’t happen for Owens, the former 49ers great who was released Sunday by the Seattle Seahawks. But it could for Moss, who in the twilight of his career is primed to catch glory one final time after spending last season out of the NFL.
Moss playfully chased reserve nose tackle Ian Williams toward the locker room after practice and razzed the second-year pro with each step. It was hardly a fair deal, given Moss' stellar speed even at age 35 against the 305-pound Williams.
''I'm not running with you, man,'' Moss joked amid laughs and smiles from both men.
While Moss is having a blast as he begins anew with the 49ers after a year out of football, former San Francisco star Owens was doing the same thing in the Pacific Northwest.
Still bold and brash, T.O. signs autographs shirtless in Seattle – getting his fresh start at age 38 with the Niners' NFC West rival also following a season away from the NFL.
Like Moss, Owens was determined to once again become the dominating deep threat he was in his primes.
But Owens may have seen his last shot to regain past glory in the NFL fade away on Sunday when the Seahawks opted to release him. Owens had been unimpressive with Seattle during the preseason and Seahawks opted not to take him down to next week’s final roster cutdown.
Owens tweeted that he is no longer a member of the Seahakws, becoming part of the league-mandated roster reductions from 90 to 75 players. Moss posted a message on his Twitter account shortly before 11 a.m. PDT that he had been released.
''I'm no longer a Seahawk. I THANK the organization 4 the opportunity, I'm truly blessed beyond belief. My FAITH is intact & will NOT waiver.''
Owens signed a one-year, $925,000 deal with Seattle on Aug. 7, following a sterling workout that had coaches and Seahawks staff raving about how good he looked for having not played an NFL game in more than 18 months. He signed just before Seattle's first preseason game and made his debut in the second week against Denver.
But his preseason performance was more notable for the passes he dropped than anything he caught. Owens dropped a potential 46-yard touchdown against Denver on a perfect throw from Matt Flynn. He failed to make a catch in any of his five targets against the Broncos and then had another glaring drop against Kansas City on Friday night. He finished the preseason with just two receptions –
a 40-yard catch from Russell Wilson where Owens had to slow down and lean back to haul in the pass and a 1-yard reception on a screen.
For as impressive as his long catch was in Seattle's 44-14 win over the Chiefs, it served as Owens' only highlight in a Seahawks uniform.
Owens was trying to make a comeback after not playing since Week 15 of the 2010 season while with Cincinnati. He sat out the entire 2011 season following surgery on his left knee and failed to receive any offers. He then had surgery on his left knee and didn't receive any offers to play last season.
Owens got the rust off this spring playing for the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League. He had 35 catches for 420 yards and 10 touchdowns while playing eight of 11 games, but was released and lost an ownership stake in the team in May.
Owens, a third-round draft choice by San Francisco in 1996, has started 201 of the 219 regular-season NFL games he has played in his career. He has 1,078 receptions for 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns - the second most in league history.
His nine seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving and 13 years with at least 50 catches rank third. His total receptions are sixth on the NFL career list. Owens spent eight seasons with San Francisco, two with Philadelphia, and three with Dallas before a pair of one-year stints with Buffalo and Cincinnati.
Owens may still try to catch on with yet another NFL team. But Moss already has found a home with the 49ers.
Moss and Owens have a couple of things in common: a shared confidence they can still catch the ball against younger, more athletic NFL defenders, and a defiant attitude aimed at those who want to label them or knock shaky reputations they insist aren't all they've been made out to be.
Owens, these days showing a spiritual side after a couple of rough years, had little time to learn Pete Carroll's West Coast offense. Moss, meanwhile, has looked speedy and in sync playing in the 49ers' system since Day 1 wearing his new No. 84 jersey.
During practice this week, safety C.J. Spillman jumped in front of Moss to break up a pass from Alex Smith. Spillman and Moss – two former college stars at Marshall during different times – then started laughing in a regular light moment for the defending division champion 49ers.
Moss has little time to worry about what people might say about him.
''I just love to play football,'' he said. ''All that other stuff, I will leave up to you all. I have been playing football since I was 6 years old. The love that I have for the game of football is going to always be in me.''
Moss – minus those dreadlocks that used to define his look – is chasing his 11th 1,000-yard season, which would move him closer to Rice's record mark of 14. He spent a rocky 2010 season with New England, Minnesota and Tennessee.
''I don't know if there's any one thing – I think the joy of the game comes out for sure,'' Smith said of playing with Moss. ''You can see it out there, how much he likes being out there, how much he likes being around his teammates. He's got a great sense of humor, but he's out there working.''
Moss is winning over his coaches and teammates before he has even helped them win a single game.
He doesn't need to say much as long as he keeps doing what he has so far, if you ask coach Jim Harbaugh. The 6-foot-4 Moss zigzags to shake defenders, shuffles to show off his fancy footwork and puts just a little bit extra into his routes – and that effort and energy has rubbed off on Michael Crabtree and others in his unit. They listen to him, intently.
Harbaugh loves tall wideouts with soft hands and the athletic ability to outleap cornerbacks and safeties to make game-breaking plays.
''He's always talking about football,'' Harbaugh said. ''Never come up on him when he's in one of those loud, gregarious moods, where he's not talking about football. Trying to catch him in one of those moments, but have not been successful yet, which is a great sign. He really enjoys it, he really loves football.''
Moss signed a one-year deal in mid-March only hours after he worked out with former NFL quarterback and reigning NFL Coach of the Year Harbaugh.
Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke hope the risk they took on Moss will pay off considering 49ers receivers produced only one catch for 3 yards in a 20-17 loss in the NFC championship game to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Moss' presence on the practice field provides a daily push for Vic Fangio's defense, too.
''You have to be up on your game each and every snap that you face him,'' said cornerback Carlos Rogers, who shared the team lead with six interceptions in 2011. ''We have fun with it. It's something that we embrace. ''
Moss has said his absence had nothing to do with football.
''One thing that I have learned that people don't like the truth, so I'll just wait until my book comes out just to see why I did walk away from the game for a year,'' he said.
Moss' best season came for the Patriots in 2007, when he caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and a single-season record 23 touchdowns in helping lead New England to a 16-0 regular season.
''That's my guy. He's a living legend right now,'' Crabtree said. ''One of the best to ever play the position. It's just fun to be around him. ''
Moss told Rogers how much he missed football. Owens has similar sentiments.
''It's all about being a part of something, rather than being the center of something,'' Owens said. ''I've changed in a lot of ways in things that I've learned in the last two years, and I've had a lot of time to think about things. I just want to move forward and leave all the others things in the past behind me.''
And now, like the 49ers and so many other NFL teams, T.O.'s brief time with the Seahawks is behind him too.