Acrobatic catches by Juron Criner, like the one shown above, have been a crowd-pleasing staple in the University of Arizona’s offense. But have we seen the last of them?
The 6’4″ senior, who passed up the pro draft after his junior season to play in the 2011 campaign, is the acknowledged leader among a deep and talented corps of wide receivers that have helped make the Wildcats one of the most respected offenses in college football.
But that senior season may have to wait. He does have a redshirt season of eligibility to use, and right now that may be a good thing.
Rumors have run rampant all week that Criner may have a serious medical condition that could keep him out of the entire 2011 season. He has already had to back out of a promotional tour arranged by ESPN, unable to make the June 14 trip to Connecticut because of what was described as “family reasons.”
(*Update 7/26: Coach Stoops now says that Criner is expected to play this season, explaining that the issue had to do with “some personal and family issues with his mother.”)
Because of the reference to family, it has also been speculated that Criner may not be the one with a medical condition, but that it is a close family member and is taking an emotional toll on the young man.
He is also not expected to attend the pre-season football camp for veterans, which begins Aug. 3.
The university is unable to comment on the situation, in accordance with the established student privacy guidelines.
So the information will have to come out in due course, but in the meantime it’s only logical to begin looking at the potential effect of Criner’s absence on the program.
A team leader on the field, Criner is generally considered one of the best returning wide receivers in the Pac-12. He piled up 1,233 yards on 82 receptions last year, accounting for 11 touchdowns in an offense that relied heavily on the pass.
And that will be the case again this season, as evidenced by the annual Spring Game. The Cats’ quarterbacks combined for 380 yards in the air during the April scrimmage game, spreading the ball around among 13 different receivers. Arizona is hip-deep in receivers.
The offense scored 27 first downs in that game. Sixteen were via the pass.
Head coach Mike Stoops pointed to the importance of the passing game when he said, “The strength of this team lies in our offense, in our quarterbacks and in our receivers. We have a plethora of receivers and they’re really starting to mature and come on.” (“plethora”?… good word, coach!)
Stoops has a quartet coming right behind Criner, each getting serious playing time last year: David Douglas, David Roberts, Richard Morrison, and Terrence Miller. They all contributed significantly to the offense’s success in a season that got off to a great start, but folded down the stretch; the Cats were ranked in the top 10 nationally at one point.
But quantity can’t make up for quality, and that’s what Criner brought to the program. He’s a deep threat that is capable of tacking on huge gains after the catch.
And he’s the other half of Nick Foles’ on-field swagger. The senior quarterback always knew Criner could make the catch when it was crunch time. A good portion of Foles’ success last season (3,191 yards and 20 TDs) can be attributed to the unmatched talents of his primary target.
But that concern for the game is undoubtedly overshadowed right now by his personal concern for his teammate and friend.
So now we all wait and listen… and hope for the best.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics/Luke Adams)