Sign Me Up

Published 12:30 am Friday, July 30, 2010

GEORGETOWN, Ky. — Terrell Owens arrived fashionably late, received a white jersey with his favorite number, and got a smattering of applause for doing even the simplest thing.

Every catch was an event.

A few thousand fans showed up for Owens’ first practice with the Cincinnati Bengals, who signed him to a one-year deal on Thursday evening, then got a glimpse of what the 36-year-old receiver has left.

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“He hasn’t slowed down,” said quarterback Carson Palmer, who worked out with Owens in California this month. “He’s a guy that’s kind of ageless and he’s still got a lot left in the tank.”

Owens enjoyed the reception — fans cheering every catch and screaming his name to lure him over for autographs when the two-hour workout ended.

“I think this team is special,” Owens said. “I really feel that there is something around the corner for this team. With me being here, (it) has really created a buzz. I think the guys feel the energy.”

The energy came a bit late.

Owens missed an overnight flight that would have brought him to town earlier in the day, allowing for a proper introduction. Instead, he caught a later flight, rolled in less than an hour before an evening practice and quickly suited up.

He and buddy Chad Ochocinco were the last two to jog onto the field, drawing loud applause. Owens occasionally waved to the fans in appreciation, but played it low-key throughout the practice.

So began the TO-and-Ocho era.

“It’s a circus,” Palmer said. “Him and Chad, them being them. It’s funny. I was laughing.”

Palmer knows that Owens has a reputation for turning on his quarterback. Owens got a chance to join the Bengals in part because Palmer lobbied to sign him after watching their workouts in California.

“I think Carson being that quarterback that can get the ball up and down the field at any given point on the field — that makes my mouth water,” Owens said. “I’ve longed to have a quarterback like Carson.”

Now he’s got him. Got his favorite number, too.

Owens wore his customary No. 81 at practice, part of a deal he made with the previous owner. Receiver Antonio Bryant got the number when the Bengals chose him over Owens in the offseason, giving him a four-year deal. Bryant agreed to give up his number.

“I’m a realist,” Bryant said. “I said, ’Hey, man, I’m not going to make no big spectacle about it. You’ve got a bigger legacy and a number than I do. I’ve been on several teams like you, but I’ve changed my number several times. You’ve had the same number.

“I don’t need your money,” Bryant said. “All I want you to do is take care of one of my little league programs in Miami. Send them a small donation and we’ll go from there.”’

First, Owens had to arrive. It wasn’t as easy as planned.

The Bengals expected him to show up early in the day, take his physical and sign his one-year contract while the rest of the team held its first workout. They scheduled an introductory news conference after the morning practice.

The news conference had to be rescheduled for after the evening session because Owens missed his redeye flight.

With Owens showing up late, Bryant was a focus of the Bengals’ morning workout — for his knee, not his number.

He had surgery for torn cartilage in his left knee during training camp with Tampa Bay last year. He was limited to 39 catches for 600 yards and four touchdowns. The Bengals signed him to a $28 million deal, hoping he would provide another outside threat with Ochocinco.

Bryant backed off workouts last month because the muscles around the left knee didn’t feel strong enough. He went through drills tentatively on Thursday, never running at full speed.

“The only thing I’m struggling with right now is just being comfortable and mentally just putting (the left foot) down and doing what I want to do without thinking, ’Oh, I might feel pain,”’ Bryant said. “That’s my biggest hurdle right now.”

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis insisted that Bryant’s knee problem had nothing to do with the decision to sign Owens. Bryant isn’t so sure.

“If I owned the team, I would definitely go after the best players, if possible, especially with the situation they acquired him,” Bryant said. “I definitely would have went after the guy.”

Running back Cedric Benson fully participated in the workouts. Benson met last week with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about his offseason arrest in Texas on a charge of misdemeanor assault. Benson is accused of punching a bar employee, a charge he has denied.

Benson hasn’t heard anything more from Goodell, who could discipline him.

“We had a good talk, a good session,” Benson said. “I guess no news is good news.”

Notes: CB Leon Hall did conditioning instead of practicing. Hall said he slightly hurt his lower back during a recent workout. … OT Andre Smith, the team’s first-round pick last year, will concentrate on conditioning the first few weeks of camp. Smith broke his left foot last Sept. 1, limiting him to six games, and had offseason surgery. … TE Jermaine Gresham, the team’s top pick this year, missed the first practice in a contract dispute.