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Owens misses opening of voluntary workouts with Bills

T.O. was a no-show Monday for the start of the Bills' voluntary offseason conditioning program.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- T.O. was a no-show Monday for the start of the Bills' voluntary offseason conditioning program.

That didn't stop his new teammates from eagerly awaiting his arrival -- whenever that might occur -- and even getting in a laugh or two.

"I'm really excited about meeting the guy," center Geoff Hangartner said. "I've heard he's a great teammate."

With an obvious wink and a smile, Hangartner complained his free-agent signing has since been overshadowed by Owens, who made a far bigger splash a week later when he signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal.

"I'm pretty angry about it really," Hangartner said, barely able to contain his laughter. "I figured all along I'd be like the big-name free-agent signing."

Pausing for effect, Hangartner added, "That's fine. I can see why we've gotten overshadowed. He obviously earned the right to be the lead dog."

Owens' absence was not a big concern for Bills strength and conditioning coach John Allaire.

Stressing that the program is voluntary, Allaire said he was already impressed with the shape Owens was in when the two met shortly before the player signed with the Bills on March 7.

"He's a physical specimen," Allaire said. "He has a very good history of being in shape, ready to go. We're not anticipating anything different this year."

Having reviewed Owens' workout program, Allaire said the two are "on the same page" and there isn't much he needs to address.

Allaire would only say "we'll see" when asked whether he expects Owens to take part in the 12-week conditioning program.

It's also not clear whether Owens will attend the team's voluntary minicamps set to start in May.

Two weeks ago, coach Dick Jauron noted the 35-year-old Owens' previous history of not taking part in voluntary sessions with his past teams, but hoped the Bills would be an exception.

"My hope is that he's here," Jauron said. "He knows how important it is for us, particularly in his first year with us."

Under NFL rules governing offseason workouts, players are required to attend teams' mandatory minicamps, which the Bills have scheduled for June.

Owens was unavailable for comment. His publicist, Keith Estabrook, said he was not aware of Owens' schedule regarding the Bills and referred questions to the team.

One thing certain was how eager Owens' teammates were to see what impact he'll make to a sputtering offense that's ranked among the league's worst over the past six seasons -- and whether he can change the fortunes of a team that's missed the playoffs for nine straight years.

"I don't know about anybody else's feelings, I know about mine: I'm pretty excited," guard Langston Walker said. "We've all seen him make some amazing plays and catches over the last few years ... He's definitely something that defenses are going to have to account for."

Second-year receiver James Hardy looked forward to start working with Owens, even though the two play the same position.

"I welcome him with open arms," Hardy said. "I'm going to try to soak up as much information as I possibly can and try to put it into my game. I know overall, at the end of the road, it's going to be a great experience for me."

Hardy has already benefited, saying he received an undisclosed amount of money for agreeing to give up his No. 81 jersey to Owens. Hardy will now wear 84.

"The number was never a big deal to me," Hardy said. "For the most part, everyone's excited because they feel he can help us on the offensive side."

The NFL's broadcasting partners have taken notice.

The league announced Monday that the Bills will be part of its Kickoff Weekend prime time schedule, opening their regular season with a Monday night game at AFC East rival New England on Sept. 14. The game will feature not only Tom Brady's expected return, but feature two of the league's premier receivers, Owens and New England's Randy Moss.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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