TAMPA — The T.Ocho Show officially begins Oct. 12 on Versus, but the Bucs secondary will get a dose of reality two days earlier when it faces the Bengals' dynamic duo at Paul Brown Stadium.
For all of the off-field endeavors of Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, the BFF receivers are still a tough assignment between the white lines.
Mix in a rookie seventh-round pick at safety for the Bucs, Cody Grimm, and their second-year nickel back, E.J. Biggers, and you can see why the social networking crowd is all a-Twitter about Sunday's matchup.
Owens, 36, is coming off a 10-catch, 222-yard performance. His 1,030 catches are fifth all time, 145 touchdowns third and 15,325 yards second.
Ochocinco, 32, has 707 catches, 10,248 yards, 63 touchdowns and more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter.
"You can't get caught up so much in who those guys are because then you sort of lose who you are," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "The fact that Terrell Owens and Ochocinco are on their team, they almost really got to be gray matter to a certain point.
"They make it tough on you, but you've got to go out there and you've got to play. And you've got good players for a reason."
The question is if Morris has enough of them. Cornerback Aqib Talib is a Pro Bowl talent, but he's coming off — by his standards — one of the roughest days of his career. Against the Steelers on Sept. 26, he had an interception early but later yielded a touchdown pass that bounced off his hands and into receiver Mike Wallace's.
Grimm made his first start in place of Tanard Jackson, who was suspended indefinitely for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He yielded a 46-yard touchdown to Wallace when he failed to turn around and find the football despite good coverage.
Grimm admitted to having some nerves early on, but by most accounts, he played well after yielding the early score.
"It was just little stuff, like not disguising things as well as I should have because you want to be in position and make sure you're there in time," he said. "I just didn't want to be out of place and get there late. After a play or two, you get the nerves out of you. And it's just like there's no crowd and you're just playing football.
"I had the one play where I got turned around. I thought the ball would get there earlier than it was, stuff like that. I didn't really have any mistakes. If I had made that play, people would've said I had a great game."
Morris said he remains confident in Grimm and company. If they need help, there's 35-year-old Ronde Barber, whom Ochocinco referred to as the Mark Zuckerberg of defensive backs because of his smarts. (Zuckerberg is a creator and CEO of Facebook.)
"I didn't blink an eye when he did get beat," Morris said of Grimm. "It was the same thing with Aqib. The vulnerability of the Cover 3 (defense) and them dropping a pass into the end zone that's tipped to their receiver. … How do you worry about that? You don't. You focus in on how you need to play that ball and track that ball."
The scary thing about T.Ocho is they haven't gotten the Bengals offense truly rolling yet. They are 10th in total offense at 349.8 yards per game and 13th in scoring at 19.8 points per game.
When Owens struggled to find a team that still wanted his services, Ochocinco lobbied the Bengals hard for him. But his breakout game at Cleveland still was not enough to prevent Cincinnati from falling to 2-2.
"Of course, the numbers were there, but it doesn't really mean a whole lot when you lose," Owens said. "That's not my point of coming here — to break records. I came here to help this team with the opportunity of getting to the Super Bowl. When you lose like that, especially to a team you're supposed to beat, it doesn't sit well with me."
With two receivers who like to go vertical, the Bengals face a lot of Tampa 2 with two deep safeties. Morris will try to mix up the Bucs' coverage Sunday.
"When you have two receivers like this, you can't adjust to one or the other," Grimm said.
Grimm, Biggers and safety Sean Jones said they have watched Owens' and Ochocinco's previous reality shows and generally had good reviews.
"I've just continued to be myself, let my personality show, and I've never been one to really bite my tongue," Ochocinco said. "But I do everything, and I stay out of trouble. That's it."
On Wednesday, when the Bengals-Bucs game was at risk of being blacked out, Ochocinco made an offer to his Twitter followers: "Special offer for 1st 85 people to buy at least 2 TB game tickets today. I will give you 2 free tickets. Call 513 62108283 & say Chad offer." The game has been sold out.
What is it T.O. says? Get your popcorn ready.
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.