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The video doesn’t lie: Arizona receivers look to go from ‘Bad’ to great

Juron Criner

Flipping over on your head without catching the ball: Bad.
Photo by Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE

Football life is good for Arizona Wildcats receivers coach Dave Nichol.

He has an All-American in senior Juron Criner.

He has more trustworthy seniors in David Douglas and Dave Roberts.

He has a touted junior transfer from Texas — Dan Buckner.

He has promising inside receivers of differing sizes — junior Terrence Miller (big) and sophomore Richard Morrison (small).

He has three redshirt freshmen he can deploy this season — Austin Hill, Tyler Slavin and super speedy Garic Wharton.

He has, to sum up, one of the best receiving corps in the country.

“We need to tap the brakes on that,” Nichol said.

For as good as this position group might be, for all the preseason praise it might be hearing, Nichol is taking a glass-half-empty approach to the spring. He took some of the receiving corps’ worst moments from last season and cut up a video entitled, simply, “Bad.”

Poor blocks. Dropped passes. Misalignments. Wrong assignments. Substandard routes.

“It was too darn long, I’ll tell you that,” Nichol said of the length of the video. “Every now and again, when they get all ‘whatever,’ I’ll just remind them of that tape.”

Said Douglas: “Yeah, there are quite a bit of plays on there. We had way too many mistakes last year. It makes you see, man, we have a lot of stuff we have to get better at if we want to be as good as they’re talking about us as a group.”

Call it some preventative medicine. It’s not that Nichol is seeing signs of his receivers growing out-sized egos — not that an out-sized ego is the worst thing for a receiver. It’s just that he wants to keep the temperature turned up on the competition in Arizona’s four-wide spread offense.

“They know what it takes,” Nichol said.

“They know you can’t just show up. If you just show up, you’re going to be average. That goes for Juron, too. He’ll get covered up in a heartbeat if he doesn’t work. That’s a fact.”

Criner showed up last season to the tune of 82 catches for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns, despite often battling injuries.

Douglas had 52 receptions for 515 yards and five scores. Roberts made 44 receptions for 487 yards and two touchdowns.

Coaches know what these guys can do.

Then there’s Buckner, whom coach Mike Stoops has said has first-round talent.

Miller emerged late last season as an inside receiver; 25 of his 29 catches came in the final five games. He’s not big enough (225 pounds) for a tight end role, but, at 6-4, he’s potentially the target over the middle that was missing for much of the past two seasons.

“That’s a work in progress quite honestly with us as coaches and him at practice in terms of how we use him,” Nichol said. “There are things he can do, there are different things he can’t do.”

Slavin (6-2) and Hill (6-3) are outside receivers. They will be, at worst, insurance against an injury to Criner or Buckner.

“We’re a play away from them playing a lot,” Nichol said.

“There were times last year when I left Juron in because Juron at 70 percent was still better than other guys at 100 percent. … Where I want to get is if Juron is huffing and puffing, I can give him a breather. I didn’t feel like I could do that all the time last year. That’s where their playing time, I think, comes in.”

Wharton, who should see ample time as a kick returner, might be the fastest player on the team. Coaches are giving him a long look this spring, or, as Nichol put it, “I’m repping the dog out of him.”

“He is so fast, but guys don’t always play fast. It ain’t track,” Nichol added. “He has got to play fast.

“He’s willing to learn and he’s competitive. That’s what I like about him. He’s probably tougher than people would think he is being a quote, unquote, track guy. He’s hungry.”

As much as anything right now, that’s what Nichol wants to see from the entire group.

And if the guys aren’t listening, he’ll just point them to the new addition to his video collection: “Bad.”

It just might help them be great.

Stoops said after Monday’s practice that safety Adam Hall and running back Greg Nwoko were scheduled for surgery next Tuesday to repair torn ACLs. As for the shuffle in the second, Stoops said Robert Golden will move back to strong safety, which leaves free safety as something of a question mark for now … With a few offseason departures (WR Bug Wright, LB Trevor Erno, LB R.J. Young), Stoops has some scholarships available. He said those could go to walk-ons who prove themselves; he added that the coaching staff is also keeping its eyes open for transfers or late additions to the recruiting class.

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