November 21, 2012

Stamps’ Taylor hopes to dazzle on the biggest stage

Larry Taylor wasn’t the most popular guy during Wednesday’s West Division media lunch – that title was shared by quarterback Kevin Glenn and this year’s Most Outstanding Player finalist Jon Cornish.

Yet as the afternoon progressed, enough reporters made their way to the veteran kick return specialist for an interview.

100th Grey Cup Centre

The 100th Grey Cup Championship matchup is set, as the Calgary Stampeders will duel the host Toronto Argonauts. Here is everything you need to know ahead of Sunday’s game.

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While Taylor’s not the top story heading into the 100th Grey Cup showdown between the Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders, there’s a chance he could be after the game.

The 27-year-old will go up against one of the other top returners of the past three years in Chad Owens, in one of the least talked about battles that could decide Sunday’s outcome. Together, they could be the ones stealing the show.

“It easily can be me and Chad,” Taylor agreed. “We’re the two guys you want to try to keep quiet throughout the game.”

“You don’t want either one of us guys to have a big impact on the game because that can just suddenly change the whole outcome and change the swing of things out on the football field.”

Looking back on the two regular season meetings between these teams, it’s a wonder that special teams aren’t being talked about even more.

Taylor ran wild back in a Week 2 meeting with the Argos, accumulating 292 yards on kick and punt returns on 10 attempts. The Stamps lost that game 39-36, but it was Taylor’s performance that even kept it close.

Special teams played an even larger role in the second meeting back on Aug. 18, when the Boatmen grinded out a 22-14 thanks to an edge in field position. While Swayze Waters had one of the best games punting of his career, Owens out-gained Taylor 108-56 in return yards.

“I think it’s going to be a very good matchup, we’ve got two very good special teams units going at it, said Mark Kilam, Calgary’s special teams coach.

“They’re very well-coached, and if you look back at the games that we played, we might’ve had the upper hand in one and they had the upper hand in the other.”

Taylor knows exactly what his counterpart, Owens, is capable of on special teams, and said he’s excited to go head-to-head with one of the best.

“Me and Chad, we’re good friends on and off the field,” said Taylor.  “We’re very similar players – both can make things happen when most guys can’t do something with it.”

“At the same time, it’s very exciting for the fans to get to see two of the best returners in this league and over the years perform on the same field in the 100th Grey Cup.”

The Argos’ special teams got off to a rocky start in 2012, failing to score a special teams touchdown through the entire regular season, while also struggling in return coverage.

The Stamps, meanwhile, struggled to fill a void at kick returner left when Taylor – the league’s leading return man – was injured.

Toronto has since improved vastly on special teams, getting its first return touchdown of the season from Owens in the playoffs while also limiting return yardage against. Meanwhile, the speedy Taylor’s returned for Calgary, giving the Stamps one of the scariest return units around.

Now as the two units clash for a chance to win the Grey Cup, how those units play could be a defining factor in Sunday’s game.

“We’re going to get a lot of opportunities,” said Taylor. “I can’t say whether we’re going to actually get a chance to put our hands on the ball because it all depends on kick coverage and blocking for the returners.”

The biggest part of the battle could be out of the hands of the returners, though – especially if the punters are successful.

“The main thing is it’s a big responsibility this game for the punters and kickers,” he continued. “They’ve got to do their job to place the ball where the coaches ask, to try to minimize my chances and Chad’s chances at the same time.”

And if they can’t, it’s not hard to imagine seeing either Taylor or Owens taking one back the other way, changing the entire complexity of the game and dazzling a sold out Grey Cup crowd at the Rogers Centre.

That’s why for Calgary, the goal is simple. Achieving it, though, might be a little tougher.

“Larry’s a special player and Chad is a very special player, but both those guys bring something to their teams that a lot of CFL teams want – they create a spark,” said Kilam. “Our job is to ignite a spark for Larry, and put out the spark for Chad.”

All Taylor can do, meanwhile, is relish the opportunity to become the brightest star on the CFL’s greatest stage.

“I’m really looking forward to the opportunity and the challenge itself, just to go out and try to help my team in any fashion that I can come away with the win.”