TORONTO - Chad Owens stuck out his hand and made a superb catch during Argonauts practice on Monday, a snare that elicited some cheers from his impressed teammates.
Owens would love to replicate the play when it actually means something.
Truth be told, the 2010 Canadian Football League most outstanding special teams player figures his performance in 2011 has been anything but outstanding, whether he is returning on punts and kicks or lining up at receiver.
“I’m not going to lie, from a personal standpoint, with the goals I set out for myself, it is frustrating,” Owens said. “If we’re 6-2, I don’t care if I have zero returns, but if I made the catch that was a key first down in one of those wins, or made a return that gave us the field position to go on a winning touchdown drive (that would be fine).
“With the record we do have (2-6), I feel I am not doing enough and I take it upon myself that I have to do better for my team. It’s frustrating when you know you could be contributing a lot more.”
It’s not that Owens has become a shell of the player that lit up the CFL a year ago. The 29-year-old leads the league with 976 combined return yards, nearly more than a length of field than Larry Taylor of the Calgary Stampeders, who has 884. Gone, however, are the returns for touchdowns. Owens had four in 2010 but none so far this season; when it comes to offence, Owens has not yet crossed the goal line either.
On kick returns, Owens is averaging 22 yards, a shade off his 22.9-yard average last year. When it comes to running back punts, the difference is substantial: A 12.6-yard return on average in 2010 has fallen to eight yards.
“Punters are doing different things, kicking across the field, putting balls into the ground,” Owens said. “On kickoffs, they’re kicking it short, away. Special teams coaches are making a point, saying it’s not their job to give up big returns. There have been some big returns, but not for touchdowns. It has been a big emphasis this year.”
Argos head coach and general manager Jim Barker has witnessed a not-so-subtle change in special teams across the league.
“I think people are taking it, I am not going to say more seriously, but you are seeing a lot more defensive starters on special teams and you are seeing special teams players who are asserting themselves,” Barker said. “There is more focus on it. We won games because of special teams. Coaches across the league have taken notice.”
Owens wants to put the talk aside simply by getting to the promised land, whether it’s on a return or by catching a pass from Cleo Lemon.
“Me and Cope (Jeremaine Copeland) talk about it all the time — we have not scored,” Owens said. “We want to get in the end zone. We have what it takes. We have improved offensively so much, but we just have to get better.”