San Jose Mercury

Owens takes Friday, today off
January 04, 2003

By Dennis Georgatos
Mercury News

Terrell Owens was held out of practice Friday and won't participate in the 49ers' final walk-through today so that he can have one more breather before Sunday's playoff game against the New York Giants.

Owens, who sat out the past two games to rest groin and foot injuries, practiced Wednesday and Thursday, the first time in more than a month he worked out with the team on consecutive days. The wide receiver caught a few passes on the sideline Friday but refrained from running.

``He wants his legs to shut down for two days so they're as fresh as possible for the game,'' Coach Steve Mariucci said. ``He's not to full strength, but he's close enough to suck it up on game day. He's a tough guy, and if he can play well, he'll play well.''

The Giants won't make it easy, though. They could reprise the double-coverage scheme they used in the season opener, a 16-13 49ers victory. The Giants limited Owens to three catches for 8 yards before his 33-yard reception, which set up the winning field goal.

``If they choose to put a lot of coverage his way, then we've got to be able to do some other things, too,'' Mariucci said. ``Would we like him to catch more than four passes for 41 yards? Yes. Therein lies the battle because the Giants are saying, `We're going to keep the ball out of his hands.' That's their plan.''

The Giants generally apply double coverage to two receivers on passing downs, meaning Tai Streets could draw additional attention, along with Owens. That could open passing lanes for tight end Eric Johnson.

Johnson had two eight-catch games in December, resurfacing as an option for quarterback Jeff Garcia after missing four games because of a back injury. A few big catches by Johnson could loosen up the coverage on Owens.

``He attacks the middle of the field well,'' offensive coordinator Greg Knapp said of Johnson. ``He finds that zone to sit down in or get to a certain area, and that's really beneficial for us. It makes the defense cover more of the field.''

Johnson said that if he is productive, the entire offense benefits. ``Because that means we're moving the chains, and that gives everyone more chances to catch balls,'' he said.

The 49ers' offense also stands to benefit from the return of left tackle Derrick Deese and right guard Ron Stone. They did not play Monday in St. Louis because of ankle injuries.

Ready to play

The 49ers have had their best week of practice, Mariucci said.

``It's been lively, focused, energized,'' he said. ``I think this team is preparing itself mentally and physically to play a heck of a football game.''

Cornerback Jason Webster did not practice for the third consecutive day and remains questionable for Sunday. His status is expected to be a game-day decision. Webster could start despite the lack of practice if he is healthy enough to play during warm-ups, defensive coordinator Jim Mora said. If Webster can't play, rookie Mike Rumph will start.

Kickoff has been pushed back 15 minutes to 1:45 p.m. The gates at Candlestick Park will open at 11:30 a.m.

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