MISSISSAUGA — Toronto Argonauts returner/receiver Chad Owens could not think of one word to describe himself as a football player after practice Wednesday. He stood off the field, with arms crossed and a confused expression. It seemed almost as difficult a question as asking him why he has not yet returned a kick for a touchdown.
“One word to describe myself, as a football player? I feel as if I’m a play maker. All around? Intense? Firecracker? I don’t know, man,” he said. He then trailed off because Owens does not want to be contained in one word or one play.
“Just because of what I’ve done the last two years as a returner has limited the critics to seeing me just as returner. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the offence that we have this year, and I’m looking forward to changing [perceptions] about me as a receiver.”
And Owens cannot pinpoint one thing that is keeping him from breaking the field open on a return like B.C.’s Tim Brown, Calgary’s Larry Taylor and Hamilton’s Chris Williams have this season. It’s one kick, one block, one run all together, he says.
“I pride myself on breaking the big [return], on leading the league in return yardage, and combined yardage,” the 30-year-old said. “As a player we’re not out here to be second, you want to come out here to compete to be the best. And I’m still thinking that way.”
Owens last season became the first player in professional football history to record consecutive 3,000 combined yard seasons.
Already with 1,010 combined yards after four weeks — second only to Taylor (1,046) — Owens is on pace for over 4,000 combined yards.
He says he would throw it all away for a Grey Cup ring, but the itch is there still, at the back of his mind.
“At the end of the season I’m still thinking that I want to be the leader in all categories,” he said.
Head coach Scott Milanovich and quarterback Ricky Ray gush about Owens’ versatility, how he can be placed anywhere on the offence.
“You have to have two speeds, two tempos,” said Owens, explaining how he sees the field in his dual roles. “As a returner you have to be fearless. Get it. Hit it. Go. Kind of like a wild man, while trying to remain composed when you’ve got the ball in your hands. But as a receiver, it is about tempo and about being in control — knowing how to gear down, being in the right place at the right time for the quarterback. You have to be smart.”
And with so many responsibilities and expectations there are also many ways to critique Owens. He caught his first touchdown pass since October 2010 against Winnipeg last Wednesday, and is seventh in the league in receiving yards (295) averaging 14 yards a catch. But the zero on his ledger for return touchdowns is surprising, even to Owens. He also leads the team with three fumbles.
“I would have thought that I would have had a touchdown return already, and I would have a couple more offensive touchdowns,” he said.
“I think I have one legitimate fumble, and it is not even a fumble, it is a dropped punt against Winnipeg [last Wednesday]. I sprinted, then I tried to catch [the ball], and make a move laterally [and the ball bounced away]. The others ones? I think I got robbed. The one in Hamilton [two weeks ago off a punt return] my knee was down. And with the catch against Winnipeg [his first one last week], it should have been an incomplete pass. It was judgment calls by the refs. It doesn’t bother me.”
Milanovich says ball security is a team issue, and Owens does not have to explain himself. Owens does anyway.
“I don’t know if there is anyone out there who takes as many reps or does as many things. And I’m not trying to say that is why I deserve a couple misfortunes. No. But I do a lot, and that is what I want,” Owens says.
So the appropriate way to describe him then is with broad words: All. Everything. Complete. Owens deflects particular criticism, but wants to be constantly measured.
“I’m not tired, I’ve been doing this for two years,” he said. “I’ve been a No. 1 returner [in 2011], taken all the return snaps, and all the snaps on offence the past two years. Nothing has changed.”