When Kez McCorvey began his new job as the receivers coach for the Toronto Argonauts this season, an eager Chad Owens was ready with a list of goals for 2012.
Owens wanted a feature role in the offence as the starting “W” receiver. He wanted to lead the CFL in receiving yards. He wanted to surpass the 3,000 all-purpose-yards mark (as he had two years in a row) and eclipse 4,000 total yards.
Of course, there was the ultimate goal, too: win a Grey Cup.
As McCorvey and new head coach Scott Milanovich saw more of what Owens could contribute, they tweaked the offence and made some subtle changes to his game.
The four-year CFL veteran earned that premier starting role, and led the league in receiving yards (1,328 and six touchdowns on 94 catches), kickoff returns (71 for 1,588 yards) and total return yards (2,510) – earning him the East Division nomination for the CFL most outstanding player award. His total of 3,863 all-purpose yards set a professional football record.
“He did things that were exceptional, that we just had to have in our offence, so Scott said, ‘I’m going to change some things so that we do things that Chad is really good at,’” McCorvey said. “Chad is the most dynamic misdirection guy I’ve seen – he can cut and change direction better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Holding him 1-on-1 is hard because he has such manoeuvrability and it’s tough to scheme for playing him inside or outside because he has a really great understanding of how to get out of situations.”
With the Argonauts set to play in the East final Sunday against the Montreal Alouettes for the right to play in the 100th Grey Cup, many are wondering how Owens didn’t become a star with the Als, when he had his shot on their practice roster in 2009?
Simple: They had lots of good receivers at the time, the 30-year-old native of Hawaii says, and he has no axe to grind whatsoever for trading him to the Argos in 2010. That season was a confidence-boosting springboard, as he was the league’s most outstanding special-teams player.
“I’ve been completely Double Blue from the moment I got here,” said Owens, who turned down a contract from the NFL’s New York Jets in 2011 to stay in Toronto.
With the focus on his role as the returner the previous two seasons, Owens was used to a lot of freedom in his route-running as a receiver. McCorvey says this year’s version of the Argos offence is more stringent, so they worked with him to be more disciplined, hitting marks at precise points.
McCorvey admits Owens isn’t the fastest receiver in the CFL, but he has exceptional quickness, which makes him dangerous – a notion echoed by Als defensive back Dwight Anderson, as he prepared to face Owens this week.
“Chad’s a very quick player, he’s more quick than he is fast. You don’t have to really worry about his speed too much … as long as you keep him in front of you, you’ve got a chance,” Anderson said in Montreal on Wednesday. “In a straight line, Chad won’t run past you. He’s so quick he looks fast because he gets separation quick, but his speed is just average.”
Owens’s coach at the University of Hawaii often watches his former player via the Internet. And he’s not surprised the guy he called the most competitive and well-conditioned on his old college team is thriving in Canada.
“His game seems tailor-made for the CFL. As a punt returner, you can’t catch him because of his quickness and the bigger field,” Southern Methodist University head coach June Jones said. “He’s so hard to cover. He doesn’t have 4.3 speed down the field, but he has a remarkable knack for getting open.
“I couldn’t be more happy for him, because there’s no guy who has worked harder.”
With files from Sean Gordon in Montreal