Letter of recommendation


Terrell Owens

Maybe Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick figured Carson Palmer would have no problem getting along with Terrell Owens because he got along so well with Owens last year in Buffalo when their chemistry bubbled from the first spark in training camp.

Fitzpatrick and Palmer have that same low-flame temperament that made them extremely close friends when Fitzpatrick backed up Palmer here in 2007 and 2008 and has kept them close to this day.

They take the game but not themselves too seriously. They'd rather laugh at the absurd and move on than agonize over the angst. And they like to keep it loose, sharing a talent with Palmer's brother Jordan for pranks, which could be on display when Fitzpatrick's Bills host Palmer's Bengals Saturday in a 6:30 preseason game at Ralph Wilson Stadium (Cincinnati's Channel 12).

"You can't put anything past the Palmer boys," mused Fitzpatrick from Buffalo on Wednesday morning about potential mayhem between the 25 hours the Bengals land and kickoff.  "But I should be OK. I taught them everything they know."

If there is a more interested bystander in the NFL when it comes to the T.O.-Ochocinco tandem operating out of Cincinnati, they've got nothing on Fitzpatrick. He has worked closely with all the major players and loves the fit with Palmer, Owens and five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.

Before Owens arrived in Buffalo, the clips said, he had left a trail of dead quarterbacks like some 19th century pioneer. From coast-to-coast. Jeff Garcia in Frisco. Donovan McNabb in Philly. Tony Romo in Dallas.

But in Buffalo, Owens had no problem with the first Harvard quarterback to ever throw an NFL pass. And Owens is still grateful how Fitzpatrick reached out to the Bengals coaching staff to vouch for him. They say that Owens never forgets a slight, but on Wednesday he could recall reading a story from back in March in which Fitzpatrick enthusiastically endorsed the Bengals' pursuit of him.

"He realized and saw me on an everyday basis -- he saw me practice and play," Owens said. "He made his assessment. I appreciate it. I was surprised because you don't find too many people who have stepped out and said positive things about me."

Fitzpatrick is still backing Owens and he's hearing some good things from his friends in Cincinnati. He agrees that his experience with Bengals running back Cedric Benson the year before helped him from pre-judging Owens last season when both arrived in Buffalo via free agency.

"The thing that impressed me about Terrell is how much he really wanted to be a leader," Fitzpatrick said. "He wanted to talk to the team before and after games. I remember when Cedric came in and how I thought we were getting the guy from all the stuff in the papers and the Internet and I found out that he was completely opposite of that. A great guy and a great teammate."

Fitzpatrick is looking like a seer. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski raves about Owens' professionalism and how quickly he has picked up his scheme in less than a month ("He's got it," Bratkowski says), and veteran locker room leaders like safety Chris Crocker have been impressed by his practice habits.

"I've always had high respect for the guy. He comes to work, does what he's supposed to do and he knows his stuff," Crocker said. "He's been a good teammate; I don't know if he's had any influence in (the locker room) as far as being vocal.

"But he influences guys by the way he practices and the way he works. He's a hard worker. He's not a very vocal guy. He leads with his work ethic. Finishing routes. Blocking. Running routes. Trying to get defenders away from the ball. Little things that a lot of guys don't do and he's 36 years old. It's not like he's trying to get a break and take plays off. And I'm not saying that just because he's my teammate. You can look at the film. That's just how he works."

One of the many things Fitzpatrick told Palmer about Owens is how the guy keeps in magnificent shape. He just doesn't look like a guy who turns 37 in December.

"I bet Terrell has looked like this since he was 20," Fitzpatrick said. "It's unbelievable that he's stayed that way for so long."

Right again. Keeping in shape is one of Owens' favorite topics. He chalks it up to having a personal trainer and making good decisions. On Wednesday he offered a few insights.

"You would never think that I'm 36. I think that's cost me money from the stigma of guys in their 30s are in their decline," he said. "We'll see what they have to say at the end of this year.

"I think I attribute it to eating healthy, I don't drink during the season. I have guys here asking how I do it. I attribute it to the way that I take care of my body. People look at what I've done over my career. It hasn't been one year here or there."

Here's something else Fitzpatrick called back in March and reiterated Wednesday:

"From what I hear, he and Chad are feeding off each other," he said. "That's really big when you have two great players like that."

Owens has taken to talking about The Ocho like he's some kind of latter day Ponce de Leon in pads who has led him to the Fountain of Youth. Owens, who knows he goes hard in practice, was shaking his head at training camp watching Ochocinco take virtually every snap.

"I'm usually like that, but in training camp I was so tired. It's like he has oxygen hooked up to his pads. I thought I was a hard worker, but this guy here," Owens said. "He works very, very hard. He's dedicated. The things we're doing now and the way we practice is definitely going to pay off throughout the season. We push each other without even saying it. Us having super powers, being super friends, Batman and Robin, it's that quiet confidence we have in each other. That quiet push we have for each other to get better."

Fitzpatrick's scouting report has also been dead on. He says Owens' best route is the "9," or what the Bengals call the "Go" or "Fly" pattern. He saw Palmer loft the 43-yarder over Owens' shoulder on the sideline the other night and he was hardly surprised.

"That's him. That's all I know about him. He just flat out runs by people," Fitzpatrick said. "It's the perfect match. You've got a guy in Carson who throws one of the best deep balls I've ever seen.  For the last couple of years they've had the lack of a downfield threat and he hasn't been able to do it as much as he should. But you put Terrell on a lot of '9' routes and you're going to get a lot of opportunities to make the big play.

"The timing thing is going to be a big issue. They need to look at that, but it's going to take the pressure off Chad. Chad understands that. He's a great receiver. He's still going to get doubled, but Terrell will really help him. Just look at the amount of touchdowns he has (144 career) year after year. That says a lot about him."

Palmer is also finding out that the reports of Owens being a freelancer is way off base. He says from his depths and his breaks he's one of the most disciplined route runners he's ever seen.

It's a good start for a relationship that Palmer knows is going to be tested hourly. Their every incompletion is going to be dissected like health care and Afghanistan. But Fitzpatrick didn't have a problem with Owens and he doesn't think Palmer will, either.

"Carson is one of the easiest people to get along with that you'll ever meet," Fitzpatrick said. "Nothing rattles him. What is this, his seventh year starting? He's seen it all. In his first seven years, what hasn't he seen? He's seen it all. And Terrell has a lot of respect for Carson. I think there's a mutual respect there between the two that helps their relationship."

Palmer admits he's wired a little bit differently than a lot of guys that play the position and he goes into this thing with eyes wide open. He thinks his relationship with another emotional receiver is evidence he'll be OK with Owens.

"I'm a little bit different personality than a lot of quarterbacks," Palmer said. "I welcome somebody that takes the attention from the quarterback. I don't have to do as many interviews.

"The main thing with him and I is communication. If you don't like something, let me know. If I don't like something, I'm sure I'll let him know. Because if you let it fester and build, things explode. He's an emotional player and that's what I love about him. And Chad's an emotional player and that's what I love about him. Everybody's been trying to break Chad and I up for eight years and make up a reason why we don't like each other. I love Chad. He's one of the guys I look forward to seeing every day in here and I think he would say the same thing about me."

It didn't take long for the whispers to start this year.

Try Palmer's first interception of the season, which came on a throw to The Ocho over the middle Friday night against the Eagles. An animated Palmer immediately approached Ochocinco, but Palmer took the blame later. It turns out Palmer had glanced to the wrong side on a hot read and when he tried to move to The Ocho it was too late. He looked mad, but Palmer says it is misinterpreted.

"I wasn't (mad). He understands what I saw, I understand what he saw. I'm mad we didn't score a touchdown," Palmer said. "I never get mad at him personally. The only time I get mad at a guy on my team is when he's not giving 100 percent effort. Chad has never done that. Chad has always done whatever he can. He's picked up his blocking skills. He's become better at blocking."

That's the attitude that Fitzpatrick thinks is going to work with Owens. And Palmer knows exactly what he faces.

"If we were to lose a game and he dropped a pass and I were to overthrow him or underthrow him, people are going to try and pull us apart," Palmer said. "The big thing is to keep communicating and be on the same page."

Fitzpatrick has said Palmer's experience with two emotional, big-time receivers in The Ocho and T.J. Houshmandzadeh should help. And Palmer agrees.

"More for the way they played than their attitudes," he said. "I was fortunate enough to have two dominant receivers. Their personalities aside, I don't care about that. They produced and they came to work every day and they wanted the ball and they were mad when they didn't get the ball and I can understand that. We always talked things over."

Maybe Fitzpatrick has a future in personnel. But at the moment he's trying to win the starting job from Trent Edwards, which has been a chore with Edwards playing with the No. 1s. He also knows he's going to have to keep an eye on the Palmers.

"Yeah, they're pretty good with the pranks," Bratkowski said. "They got me on my birthday once with the Gatorade (shower)."

A lot of it stems from the Friday practices in the regular season when the quarterbacks compete in an accuracy contest in which they get points for throwing the ball into a bucket. Loser gets humiliated.

As in one year, Fitzpatrick had to show up at the Halloween party dressed like a cow. At one Friday practice he had to dress like The Ocho in his orange speed skating outfit.

"I guess I lost more of those than I thought," Fitzpatrick said.

But Carson Palmer has also been a victim. Last year he had to dress for a road trip in a short-sleeve dress shirt a la Dwight Kurt Schrute III from "The Office."

Any plans for Fitzpatrick before the game?

Like any good prankster, Palmer gave the deadpan, "No comment."

But Fitzpatrick may have ended up helping the Bengals pull one over on the NFL.

"It's going to be interesting," he said of the turn with T.O. "It looks like a good fit to me."

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