TORONTO — Chad Owens’ on-again, off-again season is off again.
Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich doesn’t expect the speedy receiver/kick-returner to dress Monday against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Owens played in the Argonauts’ 41-27 road loss to Edmonton on Sunday after missing four games with a foot ailment but left in the fourth quarter with a leg injury following a hard hit from Eskimos defensive back Aaron Grymes.
Milanovich said during a conference call Tuesday an MRI found no serious damage to Owens’ knee. There remains swelling in the joint and thigh that Milanovich figures will sideline Owens, the CFL’s outstanding player in 2012, for the scheduled opener at new Tim Hortons Field.
“He’ll more than likely be out this week,” Milanovich said. “There’s a little swelling around his knee where he took the hit but nothing else that’s going to keep him out for a very long time.”
The Argos (3-6) have lost two straight but are atop the East Division, four points ahead of Hamilton (1-6), the Ottawa Redblacks (1-7) and Montreal Alouettes (1-7).
Owens, 32, was the CFL’s leading receiver when he hurt his foot in a 34-15 home loss to Calgary on July 15. He had seven catches for 92 yards and a TD against Edmonton before being hurt.
The loss of Owens is a blow to Toronto’s pass-oriented offence (league-high 289.1 yards per game). Owens has 35 catches for 431 yards and two TDs and is averaging a league-high 107.8 yards receiving per game. He’s also the Argos’ top punt returner (17.3-yard average, one TD).
Fortunately, Toronto’s walking wounded are returning.
Receiver Jason Barnes is back after missing time with a knee injury and Milanovich is hopeful safety Matt Black (arm) and running back Steve Slaton (stinger) will play Monday. He also expects to know later this week if veteran slotback Andre Durie (clavicle) can go against Hamilton.
“With Andre, we’re still waiting to get clearance and see how he performs in practice,” Milanovich said. “I’m hoping to know more Thursday, the first day we practise but Andre’s very close.”
Yet questions exist whether Monday’s game will take place. Tim Hortons Field was due to open June 30 but construction delays forced the Ticats to play their first three home games at McMaster University.
If Tim Hortons Field isn’t ready in time, the contingency plans are to play the next day either at the Hamilton facility or Toronto’s Rogers Centre. But Ticats owner Bob Young said Monday the club is determined to play the contest Monday, as scheduled.
“It’s something I was trying to find an answer to (Monday) and I can’t say I was given a definitive answer but I was encouraged to believe the game will take place Monday and so that’s how we’re approaching it,’ Milanovich said. “We’ve set up our practise schedule that way and if that changes that will be unfortunate but right now we’re going to assume we’re playing Monday.”
On Tuesday, Toronto released veteran cornerback Dwight Anderson, running back Jeremiah Johnson and receiver Terrell Sinkfield. The Argos acquired Anderson, 33, from the Saskatchewan Roughriders on July 7 and the eight-year veteran had 27 tackles, three sacks and two tackles in seven games.
But Milanovich said the moves weren’t a sign the Argos blame the trio for their last two losses.
“It’s getting to that time of the year when the NFL gets to the cutdown point,” Milanovich said. “They’re not the reason why we’ve lost the last two games.
“We do want to make some adjustments to our roster in the hopes we can get some more production at those positions and to do that you’ve got to make some space.”
Anderson helped Saskatchewan win the Grey Cup last season and Toronto was looking to the five-foot-11, 188-pound veteran to bring experience and veteran savvy to a young defence that returned just four starters from 2013.
The move also reunited the colourful Anderson, regarded as the CFL’s top trash talker, with Milanovich, defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke and Argos GM Jim Barker. Milanovich and Burke were assistant coaches with Montreal when Anderson was there while Barker was in Calgary’s front office in 2008 when Anderson was a Stampeder.
“I think our DBs are playing well and progressing and there are a couple still on our roster that we’d like to get a look at as well as the distinct possibility we’ll have another one coming in here shortly,” Milanovich said. “We just had to make a move and today it was Dwight’s turn.”
Sinkfield joined Toronto in March as a free agent and in five games had seven catches for 90 yards and a TD. He also had one rushing attempt for six yards, 11 kickoff returns for 240 yards and a punt return for nine yards. Johnson, another free-agent signee, ran for 110 yards on 21 carries in five games and also added 15 catches for 112 yards with one touchdown.
On Tuesday, the CFL announced veteran slotback Weston Dressler had cleared NFL waivers and was an unrestricted free agent. Dressler, 29, spent six seasons with Saskatchewan before being released in January and signing with the Kansas City Chiefs, who released him Monday.
There are reportedly five teams interested in Dressler, the CFL’s top rookie in ’08 and a two-time league all-star, but it doesn’t seem Toronto is one of them. Milanovich said the Argos hadn’t discussed Dressler’s availability but expected that to happen.
“Certainly he’s a very talented player.” Milanovich said. “It’s not something at this point that we’ve sat down and made a conscious effort about but I’m sure it will be discussed (Tuesday night) at some point.”