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Stamps plan to slow multidimensional Owens is to hit him early and often

It will be a tad more complicated when it's broken down on videotape and put into effect on the field by the Calgary Stampeders.

But the first step in stopping Toronto Argonauts receiver Chad Owens in Sunday's Grey Cup will be to get a piece of him on every play. Well, that and keep an eye on the guy getting him the ball.

"I don't know if we'll game-plan for Chad especially, because I think the key's going to be [quarterback] Ricky Ray," Stampeders linebacker Keon Raymond said Wednesday. "What you're seeing now with Ricky, I think, is that he's kind of grown into [head coach] Scott Milanovich's offence. When we played them earlier this year, seemed to me like they were still working out a lot of kinks.

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"Still," Raymond added, "you have to give Chad full credit for taking advantage of the opportunity. I think a lot of people in this league looked at him and just saw him as a returner. But Toronto gave him a chance to make plays … and he's making plays."

The proof: Owens and Stampeders running back Jon Cornish are the finalists for the CFL most outstanding player award, to be presented Thursday.

Owens accumulated a CFL-record 3,863 all-purpose yards in 2012, and led the league with 1,328 yards on 94 catches. In last Sunday's East Division final in Montreal, he hauled in 11 catches for 207 yards and had 139 yards in returns. In the East semi-final against the Edmonton Eskimos two weeks ago, his 59-yard punt-return touchdown – his first of the season – keyed a 31-point second-quarter outburst.

Cornish spoke Wednesday about how his zest for special-teams play helped keep him sane while Joffrey Reynolds was doing his thing as the Stampeders' feature back.

"Jim Barker didn't, um, illuminate me as to how good Joffrey was," Cornish said with a chuckle, referring to the former Stamps general manager/current Argos GM.

Lucky for Cornish, he had developed a reputation at the University of Kansas as something of a special-teams ace.

Owens, meanwhile, was in danger of being typecast as a kick-return guy only but under Milanovich and Ray he has found his footing as a receiver. And even though winter isn't what it used to be in this part of the country, somehow the football gods granted the Argos the rare opportunity of playing all of their postseason games indoors.

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Fast track? Neutral conditions? That plays into the hands, so to speak, of the "Flyin' Hawaiian." It's an advantage not even the most died-in-the-wool conspiracy theorist can lay at the feet of Eric Tillman or David Braley (well, not Tillman at least).

Milanovich credits Owens with realizing that to be maximize his considerable athletic abilities, he needed to become a details guy.

"He's made a lot of improvement in his route running," the Argos rookie coach said before the start of the playoffs. "There's more attention to detail: Getting the right depth on his routes, knowing when to break, remembering that if you're a receiver you aren't open until the quarterback's ready to throw the ball. I mean, you can run a route and see nobody around you, but in Chad's case, the key is being ready when Ricky's ready to throw the ball."

Sunday will mark Anwar Stewart's ninth Grey Cup appearance, and the Stampeders rush end has seen players like Owens before – guys who make their bones returning kicks and then take advantage of an opportunity to become a full-time receiver.

One of his teammates came up and playfully said: "The fumbles. Talk about his fumbles," knowing Owens has lost eight of 10 fumbles this season. But Stewart wasn't biting.

"You see Chad Owens, Chris Williams [of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats] … guys like that develop in this league all the time," he said. "You just have to keep your eye on them."

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That, and hit them when you can.

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