Niners pop off on 'bad apple' T.O.
Owens didn't exactly leave San Francisco on good terms when he bolted from the organization after the 2003 season, forcing a trade with the Eagles that netted the Niners very little for the five-time Pro Bowler. And, while teammates rarely criticized Owens for his temperamental displays and me-first disruption during his climb to stardom in San Francisco, the floodgates are open now that he's gone and the 49ers will be seeing him on the opposite side of the football for the first time come Sunday. Smith – a stoic team leader but usually an understated speaker in the locker room – wasn't holding anything back Monday when asked about terrible T.O. Smith said when he first arrived in San Francisco in 2001, when Owens was reaching the zenith of his career with the 49ers, he considered Owens "more of a team guy." But Smith saw that change – along with the rest of the San Francisco organization and, for that matter, the rest of the football world – over the course of the next three years. Owens had several well-publicized clashes with former coach Steve Mariucci. By the time Dennis Erickson came in as head coach in 2003, Owens pretty much had gone his own way and was conducting daily activities by his own rules. Citing a groin injury, Owens pulled out of practice sessions early in the season and then pretty much stayed out during the heavy work of Wednesdays and Thursdays the rest of the year. "I didn't like it," said Smith, who added that his personal opinion is that Owens wasn't even hurt when he sat out those work sessions. "I don't like the fact that someone is in there playing dominoes with their friends while we're out there practicing. I didn't like the fact that they're in there sleeping on the rehab table while we're out there practicing and then they just come out Friday because they think they're that good and they can come out and play. I didn't agree with any of that. I don't care who you are. No one's above the team." Running back Kevan Barlow, who considers Owens a mentor and was one of the closest of his few friends on the team, tried to offer some perspective on Owens' unique personality and the equally unique way he handles himself. "I think T.O. is a great guy off the field," Barlow said. "Personable guy, fun guy to hang out with. I mean, he's like a normal person. But I know him that way. And I know him on the field. I know that T.O. is going to go out and play hard. He's going to go out and give you his all. He's going to go out and play hard without a doubt. "Some other things that he does … That's just the way he chooses to go about things. I don't necessarily agree with him, but he's a grown man and that's what he chooses to do. He's an adult and that's the way he chooses to do things. He might (have) a chip on his shoulder or something." When asked if Owens could fit into the team structure of the 49ers now being enforced by new coach Mike Nolan, Barlow rolled his eyes and smiled. "You guys are killing me, man," he said. "I mean, who knows? Coach Nolan, he came in, he changed a lot of things in this locker room. Maybe he could have changed Terrell, I don't know. I mean, who knows? No comment on that." Smith makes it clear where he stands on the subject. "I don't think he'd fit in the scheme here," Smith said. "I don't think he'd fit in with this (coaching) staff, personally. I think we're better off without him. Absolutely better off without him. I think he'd do his own thing. I don't think he buys into anything but his own thing." Smith went even further in his disdain for Owens when asked if he expected the receiver would have one of his trademark dances ready should he gets into the end zone Sunday against his former team. "I'm sure he'll have something up his sleeve," Smith said. "I'm sure he'll have something going on. We're going to try and keep him out of there, so he doesn't get a chance to showcase his little dance that he's been working on all week. He probably gets in front of the mirror every day: ‘This is what I'm going to do this week,' and practices it." Smith and other 49ers defenders will be practicing this week to knock off Owens' block, along with knocking off the heavily-favored Eagles in an upset that would truly shock the football world and indicate that the Niners have arrived way ahead of schedule. "He's a good player, a great player," Smith said. "He's going to make some plays. It's going to be a challenge. I'm sure every defensive player would love to get a shot on him. He's a premier player, you know? When you get a shot on a premier player, it looks good." When asked Monday if the imminent confrontation with Owens is at all personal, Nolan responded quickly, "Not with me." And what about the rest of the team and organization, coach? "You can ask them. I'll be listening closely to the answers." Nolan will be hearing them loud and clear. And so will a former 49er who's now creating havoc – in more ways than one – for a NFL powerhouse on the other side of the country. For now, at least. Smith says even a formidable team such as the Eagles can survive Owens and his antics only so long. "I think they can get by," he said. "But you put a bad apple in with a bunch of good apples, and it's just a matter of time before the other apples spoil."
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