Chad Owens a slot jackpot

Argos wide receiver Chad Owens celebrates a touchdown against the Tiger-Cats at Ivor Wynne Stadium...

Argos wide receiver Chad Owens celebrates a touchdown against the Tiger-Cats at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, Ont., Sept. 3, 2012. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:14 AM ET

TORONTO - As if anyone had any doubts about Chad Owens and his ability to be an every-down receiver, his recent play has silenced whatever critic may still exist.

As if anyone wondered who has emerged as Toronto’s long-awaited go-to receiver, Scott Milanovich pretty much put to rest any concern when he anointed Owens moments after the Argos rookie head coach addressed the media following Wednesday’s light workout.

Not that anyone required Milanovich to state the obvious, not when all one needed to do was look at Owens’ body of work at the slot position and see the inroads he’s made.

Up until this season, many had envisioned Owens as a return specialist, which isn’t so bad given how explosive he’s been in punt and kickoff returns during his first two years as an Argo.

But deep down, Owens always envisioned himself as a receiver, a position he first played when he first strapped on a helmet and shoulder pads as a youth in his native Hawaii.

Barring an injury, Owens is well on his way in becoming the first Argos receiver to surpass 1,000 yards, a feat that should be routine in the pass-happy CFL, but one that has proven to be as elusive in Argoland as finding a legitimate quarterback.

Of course, the two go hand in hand and in Ricky Ray, Owens finally has someone who can get him the ball.

Arland Bruce III is more graceful than Owens, his stride may be slightly longer and his ability to make plays in the air more refined given his experience, but Owens is getting to that level.

In fact, not since the days of Bruce have the Argos seen such an explosive receiver.

And while Owens has yet to produce a return major this season, he’s always one play away from returning a punt or a kickoff to the house.

As good as Owens has played, the frightening aspect for opposing defences is that he has plenty of room for improvement.

On Wednesday, the CFL announced Owens had won the weekly offensive player honour, which is no surprise when one looks back on Toronto’s thrilling Labour Day win in the Hammer, where Owens set an Argos record for combined yards (402), made a highlight reel one-handed grab on the game-winning drive, produced a game-high 176 receiving and 11 receptions and he scored the game’s opening touchdown.

In recent weeks, Milanovich admitted Owens has evolved to the point where the Argos simply must have him on the field in every offensive set, a departure in philosophy from early in the season when Milanovich figured he needed to balance Owens, the receiver and the returner.

While many are pining for Owens’ first return major of the season, the simple fact remains that he can’t do it alone.

He has been close and Owens is on pace to shatter Michael (Pinball) Clemons’ record for combined yards, a pace that will put Owens in the unspeakable territory of 4,000 yards.

Owens knows he can’t do it alone, just as he understands that a big part of his success at the slot is the direct result of having Ray and playing in a passing offence.

“I’m a piece of the puzzle,’’ said the Flyin’ Hawaiian. “I don’t look at No. 1 receiver, No. 2, No. 3.

“Every game, someone can have that game.”

While true, it’s also true that Owens and Ray have developed that trust fact any good pass and catch tandem must have to post numbers Owens has been accumulating.

“He still mistakes,’’ Milanovich said of Owens. “But he’s just a dynamic football player who’s tough to get on the ground, has the ability to get open in man or zone. He’s continuing to grow.”

Ball security, whether he’s on the receiving end of a Ray pass or in the return game, can always be improved.

Naturally, he can always refine his route running, understand better defensive concepts, but Owens remains a student of the game and attributes his success to his work behind the scenes.

“Coach Milanovich is constantly in my ear when it comes to getting my depth,’’ said Owens. “I study myself on film and I take the criticism.”

Above all else, it’s Ray’s presence and relationship Owens has forged that have helped Owens in his evolution.

One play in particular reveals that trust factor, a play on Toronto’s opening series on Labour Day that ended with Ray hooking up with Owens on a touchdown.

“I told him, ‘I appreciate you trusting me,’ ’’ Owens admitted.

RAY RAISING OWENS' GAME

Owens knew his highlight reel reception would draw attention, but it wasn’t until family and friends down south contacted Owens that he realized the magnitude of his one-handed grab.

“They saw it on (ESPN) SportsCenter, which is pretty cool,’’ said Owens.

It would have been more complete had noted CFL booster Chris Berman provided the commentary, but Owens isn’t about to quibble.

Clearly, Owens’ profile has never been higher as an Argo, his stock continuing to soar and his presence on the field sure to expand the more he plays with Ray.

Ray is by far Toronto’s most valuable player, the team’s most indispensable, but Owens has become the Argos’ most outstanding player, a distinction that must be made and understood.

On that eye-popping one-handed reception, which highlighted Owens’ athleticism as he leaned back in mid-air with his right arm, it happened to be a busted play.

“I was actually trying to get to the next window,’’ said Owens. “Ricky put it up. I saw the ball. It was a little bit behind me and it stuck.

“It was one of those plays. It was my time in that particular moment to make that play.”

The way the Argos run their offence, Ray will get the ball to whomever is open based on what he sees.

Defences will roll their coverage to Owens’ side, which then forces Ray to read whatever coverage is being run and either go to Owens’ side of the field or opposite it.

“They (Ticats) changed coverage at the snap,’’ admitted Ray. “I kind of got stuck. Actually, I was supposed to be working away from Chad.”

Ray would throw the ball over the middle with a Ticat lineman dropping into coverage, the passing window as thin as Ray’s hair.

“I wasn’t trying to make him (Owens) catch it one-handed,’’ said Ray. “It was awesome.

“Obviously, it helped us win a football game. That could have easily gone for an incompletion, at worse I throw a pick. When you have a good player, they bail you out when you make a bad decision or a bad throw.”

Ray had no clue what role Owens would play when Ray joined the Argos this off-season.

“Coach Milanovich was pretty high on him coming into the year,’’ said Ray. “I know he (Milanovich) wanted to use him more as a receiver and get him involved because he’s such a special player.”

When he spoke to his peers, Ray began to hear of Owens’ athleticism.

He’s now seeing first-hand what Owens can do.

“He’s done a good job in trusting his speed and getting better at running routes to where he’s not fooling me with any of his moves,’’ said Ray, whose go-to receiver in Edmonton was Fred Stamps.

“I know right where he (Owens) is going to be. What’s helped him the most has been his consistency in route running. I have his full trust in knowing where he’s going to be.”

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN

Argos slotback Chad Owens has quickly moved among the league leaders in catches and yards. Here’s a look a the CFL’s top five pass catchers:

Name, Rec., Yards, Avg., TDs

S.J. Green (Mtl), 49, 824, 6.8, 3

Chad Owens (Tor), 53, 764, 14.4, 4

Chris Williams (Ham), 42, 704, 16.8, 5

Chris Matthews (Wpg), 45, 684, 15.2, 5

Nik Lewis (Cal), 58, 676, 11.7, 7


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