The Toronto Argonauts learned Tuesday star receiver/kick-returner Chad Owens will miss at least three weeks with a foot injury suffered in Saturday's 34-15 home loss to the Calgary Stampeders. And that's a best-case scenario as head coach Scott Milanovich said Owens could be gone "possibly significantly longer."
Fortunately, it appears Owens, 32, who sported a walking boot at practice for the second straight day, won't require surgery. But his injury comes at a bad time for the Argos, who are also minus veteran receivers Andre Durie (clavicle) and Jason Barnes (knee). Barnes underwent further examination Tuesday but Milanovich wasn't expecting him to play Friday night when Toronto (1-2) visits Ottawa (0-2) in the expansion Redblacks' home opener.
Toronto's receiving corps will sport two rookies — 2014 first-round pick Anthony Coombs (for Durie) and Terrell Sinkfield (for Owens) — and sophomores John Chiles and Darvin Adams (replacing Barnes). That makes Canadian Spencer Watt, a five-year veteran with 111 career catches (Owens had 94 last year alone) the unit's elder statesman.
"It's football," Milanovich said matter-of-factly. "Minimally, you need to weather the storm.
"In a perfect world this is where (other) guys step up and make a name for themselves and become stars. That's what the guys have to expect from their performance. Guess what? Sinkfield is taller and faster than Chad. I'm going to miss Chad but Sinkfield does other things. Go out and show Chad how it's done."
The loss of Owens is big for Toronto.
Not only is he the CFL's leading receiver (28 catches, 339 yards, one TD) but also one of its most dangerous punt returners (17.3-yard average, one TD). And his absence leaves Ray, the CFL passing leader with 982 yards, without his favourite target.
"It (Owens' injury) does change things for me," Ray said. "I'm so comfortable with him and used to what he's doing out there.
"It's going to be tough not having him there but it's just the way its' going to be. With these new guys and veterans that are left out there playing, we've all got to step it up and fill some of the production he has out there."
Ray and Owens have built their rapport over time as they're in their third season together. Ray is so familiar with Owens that he knows exactly where to get Owens the ball so he doesn't have to break stride and can quickly head up the field and gain valuable yards after the catch.
Now, Ray and his new receivers face the challenge of having to get to know each other on the fly.
"You just don't have game experience with them, that's the hardest part," Ray said. "You know they're going to run hard and be in the right spots. They're going to make a few mistakes, everybody does over the course of the game but we expect them to make plays.
"Hopefully we can get most of the stuff ironed out in the week of practice to where we're all on the same page and be ready to go."
Safety Matt Black (arm) is also on the six-game injured list for Toronto. The Argos' defence could be getting reinforcements soon as defensive backs Jamie Robinson and Brandon Underwood — who both missed Saturday's contest due to injury — were active participants in practice Tuesday but linebacker Antwuan Molden sat out with an unspecified ailment.
"Underwood has a chance to be back, Robinson has a good chance," Milanovich said. "Molden, he's a maybe."
Milanovich said Owens had an MRI on Monday but the results were inconclusive. So Owens underwent a CT scan, which discovered the full extent of his injury.
Toronto also added veteran offensive lineman Scott Mitchell to the practice roster Tuesday while dealing second-year quarterback Josh Portis to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for a conditional '15 draft pick.
This marks Mitchell's second stint with Toronto. The '11 second overall pick by the Edmonton Eskimos signed with the Argos as a free agent this off-season but was released after failing his physical.
The six-foot-four, 210-pound Portis was firmly entrenched in No. 4 on the Argos' depth chart behind Ray, Trevor Harris and Mitchell Gale. Portis signed with Toronto last season and had dressed for one game.
"We had too many quarterbacks, we had to pare them down," Milanovich said. "He's got a lot of talent, he's a CFL style of quarterback.
"He can run, he can throw. He just wasn't in our plans right now."
Toronto will definitely head into hostile territory Friday night as the Redblacks will have a sellout crowd of 24,000 at TD Place for their first CFL home game. And the contest will be the first within the East Division for both clubs.
"It should be a great atmosphere, I'm looking forward to it," Milanovich said. "Our guys thrive on playing in stadiums that are full and loud and we've historically been a pretty good road team.
"I'm excited, I think the players are excited, we have a lot of respect for this team."