In one breath, Garner let it be known that he wasn't happy with his sophomore's day-to-day preparation but also that Owens clearly is his best player at the position.
The No. 15 Bulldogs probably will enter the season Sept. 2 against Western Kentucky with Owens as the only defensive tackle with any meaningful game experience. (Senior Ray Gant is expected to miss at least the first game and possibly longer due to a chronic shoulder injury.)
Despite Garner's concerns, Owens is not a bad bell cow. He played in 13 games last year as a true freshman and registered 17 tackles and 2.5 sacks. It's difficult for players to make an impact on the interior line as true freshmen because of the physical nature of the position, but Owens turned heads when he showed up for summer conditioning last year.
"It started in the weight room," center Nick Jones said. "I was like, ‘Dang, this kid's strong.'"
In terms of raw strength, Owens is in the top five percent of true freshmen to ever come through Dave Van Halanger's weight room, Van Halanger said. Owens continued to impress this summer by bench-pressing 535 pounds and power cleaning 365. Both lifts tied for third all-time in school history for all positions.
"I was in the ninth grade when I first started lifting weights, and I barely could lift (95 pounds) on the bar," Owens said, "so I worked at it and got better at it. You have to be strong (to play defensive tackle). You don't have to be as big as people think you've got to be. Size is overrated."
Even strength is not the most important thing, Owens said he has come to learn.
"If you don't have the technique down pat," he said, "you're not going to be a great football player."