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Sitting down with Montell Owens


Jaguars special teams coordinator Russ Purnell knows what it takes to be a great special teams player in the NFL. Purnell is in his 24th season in the NFL coaching special teams and has coached six Pro Bowl players with four different franchises.

After arriving in Jacksonville in February, Purnell realize quickly the type of player he had in fourth-year pro Montell Owens.

"First of all, he's a great human being," Purnell said of Owens. "He brings passion, work ethic, a very strong focus and great attention to detail. He has all the tools, strength, explosiveness and great toughness. He is right up there with all of the great ones I have coached."

Owens goes mostly unnoticed across the country but he is unquestionably the leader of the Jaguars special teams unit. In 11 games, Owens leads the team with 18 tackles and ranks second in franchise history with 63 career tackles.

Owens took the unconventional route to the NFL, playing running back at Maine after not receiving any Division I scholarship offers. The Jaguars signed him as an undrafted rookie in 2006 to fill out the training camp roster. He began at fullback and even saw time at safety during camp. No matter the position, he found a home on special teams with his reckless style of play and nose for making tackles.

Four years later, he has a contract extension and is regarded by many as one of the NFL's best. sat down with him this week to discuss his role and the chemistry of this year's unit.

It appears from the outside you are having one of the best seasons of your career with 18 special teams tackles in 11 games. Is it more about opportunities, or are you having your best season?
It's funny because I had no idea. I never look at that (tackles) chart. It's really just working your craft throughout the years. Obviously, when people look at a kickoff they don't really see all the little details that go into having a successful kickoff team. We have been doing really well this year on punt coverage. It's a lot of the little things. Russ (Purnell) has brought so much wisdom to the unit. He has been around the league a long time. You're picking up little things that help you read your keys that much faster. It's a game of inches so if you can get somewhere just a split second faster, you are going to maybe make plays you hadn't been able to make in years past. Russ has brought a lot to the table.

I have heard that people actually game-plan for you on special teams like they do Maurice Jones-Drew on offense.
I didn't realize that. I know they game-planned after we ran the fake last year and all the fake punts we did in the past. I just play hard. I just love the game.

You scored twice last year on special teams. That doesn't happen often.
I hadn't touched the 'zone' since college. Just to get back there was a good feeling.

Have you noticed teams doing different things to you this year compared to the past?
Not really. What makes opportunities pop open for myself are some of the things the other guys do. (Brian) Iwuh is a great special teams player. That is what really creates opportunities. When everybody is on the same page then opportunities are going to pop up.

The Jaguars lead the NFL in opponents punt return average at 3.4 yards. Is that a combination of things?
It's impossible to be about one guy. If Adam (Podlesh) were to out-kick the coverage then it wouldn't matter how fast we got down there. We wouldn't be able to cover the kick. I have talked in years past about the importance of having chemistry on special teams. People always asked, 'How can you have chemistry on special teams.' Well, that little bit of chemistry of how Adam has been able to hang the ball up there and he knows our release, and us being able to be there by the time the returner catches the ball; that takes practice day after day to get that in sync. It's similar to timing between a quarterback and a wide receiver. It's the same thing on special teams.

There are 27 new faces on this year's roster from a year ago and it seems they are all playing special teams. How has that carried over?
Coach (Kennedy) Pola always talks about in our meeting room, the style of football that will win is when you out-will your opponent. That is one thing that I feel is a carryover to the special teams. We're hungry. We have (Brian) Iwuh and then William Middleton and Sean Considine. Will is a young guy. You have Russell (Allen), Quentin (Groves) and Courtney (Greene).

It's very difficult for a special teams player to make the Pro Bowl. One player is voted in each year for each conference but a lot of it is about reputation. Does it bother you?
Well, first of all, that's not the reason why I play this game. I don't play this game to go to the Pro Bowl. My faith in God and me wanting to give everything I have because of the gift God gave me, that is the reason I play.

You spend a lot of time watching tape of the upcoming opponent. Do you ever just turn on the tape and watch other special teamers around the league?
I look at a lot of guys, players like (Jets) Larry Izzo who have played for 14 years. Every year we are matched up and every year we are whupping each other's butt. Every team has their main dominant special teamer. When I watch film I learn so much from those guys. There are things I do that they don't do and things they do that I haven't done. It behooves you to take some of the technique and some of the little tricks of the trade and add them to your own toolbox.

You came in as an unheralded rookie free agent from Maine and earned a roster spot as a rookie. I remember you stood out for the way you played on special teams. It doesn't appear anything has changed four years later.
It all comes down to your foundation and what you believe in. Obviously, in my life I put my family first, my faith next and then whatever happens here. I believe just my foundation I have with my family and faith allows me to sustain my drive, my will. I don't want to let my family down and I definitely don't want to let my belief in Jesus Christ down and what it stands for. At the same time, I don't want to let the players in this locker room down. I still have the mentality. Coach (Pola) always tells us that the day you get here is the day they are trying to replace you. I was talking to Tyron Brackenridge and Gerald Alexander the other day about a special teams player for the Lions named Alex Lewis. I remember last year when we played at Detroit. This guy whupped my butt the whole game. Games like that are what keep you going. You think, 'I haven't arrived.' Games like that will keep you humble.

You were rewarded with a contract extension in the offseason. Did it make all the extra work you put in worth it?
I do believe you should be rewarded with the hard work you put in. That just comes with trying to be the best you can be. It doesn't change me.

Do you have any individual goals or goals for the special teams unit each year?
Everybody on this special teams unit knows what they are capable of. One of the things that I noticed is we don't have a bunch of guys that look at stats and see how we compare to others. What we do is look at each other and hold each other accountable. I think that goes further than stats. There are days when we were great statistically but we all came in the locker room with a sour taste in our mouth. Last week, there was a block I could have had to help Spoon (Brian Witherspoon) leak out just a few more yards and I missed that block. Even though we still got the ball out to the 30-yard line, I apologized to Spoon. That is the kind of cohesiveness we have in that room. That is really what's going on.

You have four career rushes and two receptions. Do you see yourself having more opportunities on offense in the future?
Tiki Barber was a special teams player for a number of years and then he got an opportunity in the offense. You never know. I don't know. The only thing I can continue to do is to play like I'm playing and bring my all every day.

I know football is your passion because it seems like you live at the stadium with all the time you spend here. Take me through a normal night at home for you.
I can tell you what I did last night. I love music. Right when I got home I picked up the (trumpet) horn and started playing.

Do the neighbors have anything to say about that?
They don't care. When I first moved in they asked if I played the trumpet. They said it sounds great and my dog is howling all the time. But they said to keep playing and they don't mind. When I'm practicing I actually sound horrible because I'm trying new things. That is my love away from football.

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