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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Criner develops as WR threat

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Receiver Juron Criner tucks the ball away as he gains yardage in Saturday?s win over the UCLA Bruins at Arizona Stadium. The sophomore is quickly making a name for himself in a deep pool of UA receivers.

Entering the season, a bevy of players were supposed to make the Arizona football team’s passing attack an imposing force. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was supposed to lead a talented group of pass catchers with junior Delashaun Dean and senior Terrell Turner.

However, a back injury ended Gronkowski’s season before it started and Dean has been hampered by a leg injury for most of the year. Fortunately for Turner, he hasn’t had to shoulder the burden on his own. Wide receivers David Roberts and David Douglas have been pleasant surprises for the Wildcats, but it’s sophomore Juron Criner who has stood out most, especially in the past two weeks.

In wins against Stanford and UCLA, Criner hauled in 16 balls for 237 yards and two scores. On top of those numbers, he added 39 yards on the ground on three carries against Stanford, showing how versatile he can be.

But it wasn’t always that way for Criner, as the transition to the college game was difficult for the 6-foot-4, 210-pound receiver.

“”He only played two years of high school football so his overall football knowledge wasn’t a whole lot when he came in here,”” said outside receivers coach Dave Nichol. “”Now he’s like, ‘Hey, they’re doing this to me and here’s the coverage,’ because he’s a smart kid anyway. It’s just now that he’s played a little bit he just understands more.

“”The more he reps, the more he plays,”” Nichol added, “”I think the better he’s going to get.””

That can be a frightening thought for opposing defenses. For the season so far, Criner leads the Wildcats in receiving yards (386), touchdowns (five), yards per catch (14.3) and ranks third in catches (27). With some guidance from Turner, these numbers could continue to improve.

“”I grabbed him as soon as he got in (to Tucson) because I knew he had the ability and the athleticism to be great. People are just starting to see it now,”” Turner said. “”Just by working with him and his routes and keeping his mind good with all his school and the fans, going to away games, things like that, I’m supposed to be that guy who’s going to help him along the way, and I feel that he can be a great guy for our offense.””

But that didn’t appear to be the case during his first season in Tucson. Criner, a Las Vegas native, had difficulty focusing during practice throughout the week and those struggles affected his play — and playing time — on Saturdays. After a minor setback while he nursed a leg injury, Criner could have reverted to his old habits, as he didn’t get a lot of playing time early this year.

But that didn’t happen. He wouldn’t let it.

“”I have a better head on my shoulders. I’ve been in better moods, and I take practice more mentally now when I’m not on the field practicing,”” Criner said. “”When I was out (with the injury), I was taking every mental rep I could, so it started there and then I went on the field and let my natural abilities take over.””

And those natural abilities are getting more refined each day. Criner is developing chemistry with starting quarterback Nick Foles and is improving his overall game. Nichol said Criner still needs to polish up his route running and finish blocks better, but from a receiving standpoint, Criner is doing well.

Once Criner keeps his mental game consistent — and pairs that with his formidable physical attributes — there’s no telling how successful he can be in the UA offense.

“”He’s big, he catches the ball well, he’s competitive and he’s elusive for a guy his size,”” said offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes. “”He brings a lot of possibilities to the table as far as what he can do. He’s just starting to realize how good he’s capable of being and starting to tap into that potential.””

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