TORONTO - As much as Chad Owens has turned Canadian Football League fields into his personal playgrounds the past two seasons, there was a feeling he never really had until now.
“I feel complete,” Owens said on Thursday after the Argonauts’ final practice before their pivotal game in Vancouver against the B.C. Lions on Saturday.
“There was always that one thing inside me where I was extremely happy doing what I was doing on special teams, and being the top return yards leader the past two years, and all those good things.
“But it was like, ‘Man, I want to get on board as a receiver and show what I can do here.’ And there is more of a sense of a complete feeling.”
Mind you, Owens knows he won’t truly have that as a football player until, and if, he lifts the Grey Cup over his head. Whether the Argos win the Grey Cup in the time that Owens is in Double Blue, there will be no doubting the effort the 30-year-old brings every time he steps between the lines.
The Argos, 6-4, can claim the No. 1 spot in the CFL with a victory against the Lions, who through 10 weeks have set the bar with a 7-3 record. The Boatmen have a half-dozen victories, equalling their total of 2011, thanks in part to the play of Owens.
He’s on pace to gain 4,405 all-purpose yards, an astonishing number considering the CFL record is 3,840, set by Michael (Pinball) Clemons in 1997. There’s another feather Owens is trying to put in his CFL cap. He has 824 receiving yards, good for second in the league and 47 behind leader S.J. Green of the Montreal Alouettes.
No CFL player has led the league in kick return yards and receiving yards in the same season. Owens has a CFL-best 1,000 kick-return yards.
Owens was asked last year at the Grey Cup if he could attain a third consecutive season of more than 3,000 all-purpose yards. He jokingly replied he could push it to 4,000 yards, but now knows it really could happen.
“I didn’t really see myself getting that,” Owens said. “As you go along, you see there is a chance. And that became one of my goals.
“Look, if I can end the year as the No. 1 receiver and the No. 1 returner in yards, all that, I would be happy with my personal success, but it would not be as satisfying if we don’t win the Grey Cup.”
If the Argos are able to get to the Grey Cup in Toronto at the end of November, there’s an strong chance the opponent will be the Lions. The Argos are looking at the game in B.C. as a true indicator of how much overall progression they have made this season.
“I don’t think they have a weakness,” Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said. “They are a solid football team. Can they be beat? Absolutely. They have been beaten a couple of times already. But they are well-built, and that’s why you have to play a tight game relative to turnovers and fumbles and penalties.”
And if the Argos emerge from B.C. Place with their first triumph in Vancouver in 10 years, expect that Owens will have had an impact.
“His ability physically to get himself prepared for all the touches he gets, he is pretty special,” Milanovich said. “He works hard in the offseason and gets his body ready. You wish you had an answer (for Owens’ talents being what they are), because you would give it to everybody. Chad wants the ball in his hands and I am glad to see he is getting what he deserves, because he has waited a long time for it.”
B.C. FUTILITY HAS ARGOS VET AT A LOSS
There aren’t many fond memories kicking around for the Argos when it comes to playing in Vancouver against the B.C. Lions.
In fact, on the current Toronto roster, only running back Jeff Johnson (left) has experienced a victory there while wearing Double Blue, and that came 10 years ago.
“It’s hard to nail it down to one particular rhyme or reason, but I would say the travel is the biggest contributing factor,” Johnson said. “But there’s no reason it should be 10 years. That’s far too long and we need to get a victory there this week.”
The Argos don’t have success against the Lions, no matter where the games are being contested. Including an 18-9 loss against the visiting Lions in August, the Argos have won just three of their past 19 games versus David Braley’s other CFL team.
On July 9, 2002, the Argos won 30-22 in Vancouver when Mike O’Shea, now the Argos’ special teams co-ordinator, recovered the ball after a missed field-goal attempt and rumbled to the end zone for a touchdown as time expired.
ARMSTEAD IS A REAL GAMER
When the Argonauts signed Armond Armstead at the end of May, the defensive tackle sat down in front of his computer and watched a Canadian Football League game on YouTube.
After all, Armstead, a native of Sacramento, Calif., who turned 22 on Aug. 3, had no idea what the CFL was about.
“I knew there was a Canadian league, but I did not know any of the teams,” the 6-foot-5, 298-pound defensive tackle said. “I didn’t realize all the rules were different. I knew there was a wider field, but that was it.”
Ten games into his CFL career, it is clear Armstead has made a smooth adjustment from his NCAA career at Southern California. He has grabbed and held on to a starter’s role on the defensive line and is tied for the team lead with three quarterback sacks.
“He has a great first step, a great motor and is agile,” Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said. “He’s kind of the full package inside. His work ethic is excellent and he tries to dominate every day in practice. It’s one of the reasons he is so good in games.”
Armstead will have a mini family reunion of sorts in Vancouver this weekend when the Argos visit the B.C. Lions. His parents, Christa and Guss, will travel to the game as will several family friends.
For Armstead, the biggest adjustment to the Canadian game, as it is for the majority of linemen who bring their talents north, was lining up a yard off the ball at the line of scrimmage. Armstead called it an “inconvenience,” but once he got his timing down, there no longer was a problem.
“I can’t really tell a difference any more,” Armstead said. “The first couple of games I was a little shaky, but I have been feeling great. I’ve figured out how I can make plays and be effective in this league.”
KACKERT ON THE LIMP
Chad Kackert likely won’t be able to build on his best game in the Canadian Football League.
At least, not right away.
The Argonauts running back again on Thursday was a spectator for the most part at practice, watching as Gerald Riggs Jr. took the first-team reps.
Kackert is nursing a lower left leg injury and is questionable, at best, for the Argos’ game in Vancouver on Saturday.
“He did not look great today,” Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said about Kackert after practice. “We are going to evaluate it. My gut would tell me Riggs would be going, but we don’t know that at this point yet.”
Kackert rushed for 172 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries in a 45-31 win against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last Saturday. Kackert also had 67 yards receiving and was named the CFL offensive player of the week.
Riggs has not appeared in a game for the Argos this season.