Copyright 2007 is reporting that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed their first free agent of the 2007 season in former Jacksonville Jaguars return specialist Chad Owens. Owens, who was a sixth-round pick out of Hawaii in 2005, was one of the most decorated kick and punt returners in college football history and earned the Mosi Tatupu Award in 2004, which is given to the nation’s top special teams player. He was signed to a future contract on Wednesday. Terms were not disclosed.

Owens returned 46 kickoffs for 1,354 yards (29.4 avg.) and two touchdowns during his Warriors career. He was even more successful on punt returns where he averaged 11.9 yards per return on 85 opportunities, scoring a school-record six times. His 5,461 all-purpose yards was also a Hawaii record, surpassing the previous record of 4,558 yards set by Gary Allen (1978-81).

Owens also made his mark on Hawaii’s offensive record book, finishing his career as the school’s all-time leading receiver with 239 catches for 3,031 (12.7 avg.) and 29 touchdowns in 44 games. As a senior in 2004, Owens set a school mark with 102 catches for 1,290 yards (12.6 avg.) and 17 touchdowns. He returned 36 punts for 531 yards (14.8 avg.) and a Hawaii-record five touchdowns as a senior.

Despite a decorated career at Hawaii, Owens slipped in the draft due to his size and a slower-than-expected 4.65 time in the 40-yard dash. Owens stands just 5-foot-7 and weighs 188 pounds, but is a tough competitor – benching 225 pounds 23 times at his pro day workout – and is more quick than fast.

Owens starred mostly in the preseason in Jacksonville and appeared in only five games, one as a rookie in 2005 in which he muffed three punts and returned three punts for six yards, and four contests in 2006 in which he fair caught five punts and returned nine punts for 56 yards (6.2 avg.). He spent considerable time on the practice squad in Jacksonville in both 2005 and 2006. In the 2006 preseason opener against Miami, Owens caught a 62-yard touchdown pass.

The Buccaneers are seeking to upgrade their special teams and were disappointed with the production of their kick and punt return units in 2006, averaging a league-worst 6.5-yard average on punts and a less than stellar 21 yards per kick return.

Third-year player Mark Jones, who was drafted by the Buccaneers in the seventh round in 2005, averaged only 7.8 yards on 20 returns and had four fair catches. His longest return of the year was an 18-yarder. Jones’ lone kickoff return of the season came against Seattle and was a 29-yarder.

Jones has primarily been the Bucs’ punt returner, but has failed to win the kickoff duties or see any snaps on offense as a wide receiver. After 14 games with the New York Giants in 2004 averaging 6.7 yards per punt return and 18.5 yards per kick return, the Bucs acquired Jones and watched him average 9.6 yards per return with a long of 31 and post a disappointing 19 yards per kickoff return on five attempts.

Jones does possess 4.4 speed, but doesn’t possess the short area quickness that makes return men successful in the NFL.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at:
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