The up-and-down season of Arizona senior receiver Juron Criner has taken another dip.
Heading into last Saturday’s home game against Utah, Criner had compiled 21 catches for 219 yards and five touchdowns in the previous two games. That marked his most catches ever in back-to-back games. Wide receivers coach Dave Nichol said Criner was as healthy as he had been all season.
But Criner, who missed almost all of the Oregon State game on Oct. 8 because of a first-quarter knee injury, finished with only three catches for 48 yards against the Utes, and he wasn’t out there at the end of the game.
Interim coach Tim Kish said Monday he thinks the knee is “tender” to Criner.
“He’s trying to go and he’s trying to give it his best effort,” Kish said. “I think Juron, if he’s not 100 percent, doesn’t want to be out on the field sometimes.”
Kish then clarified that last statement.
“I just think he feels like he can’t really plant and push off,” he said.
“When he doesn’t feel like he (can do that), he really feels he is letting the team down. That’s what I meant by that, as opposed to him just taking himself mentally out of the game.”
Criner, who earned some second-team All-American honors last season, had appeared to be rounding into his 2010 form. Chad Reuter of NFLDraftScout.com last week listed Criner as a draft “riser” on his blog at CBSSports.com.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound receiver has gone over the top of shorter defenders, run past corners sitting on short routes, and even made a quick catch-and-turn move for a 24-yard touchdown against Washington in their 42-31 road loss. Criner hasn’t always been consistent as a pass-catcher, and had a health issue before the season which will need to be thoroughly researched by NFL teams. But if he continues to show off strong hands and nice agility for his tall, lanky frame, teams will have a difficult decision to make on whether they should wait until Draft Saturday to select him.
There is some concern among scouts and draft analysts about Criner’s pure speed and his ability to get off press coverage in the NFL. If he has trouble with that in postseason workouts, his draft stock as an outside receiver will drop.
Nichol said Criner doesn’t have to be pigeon-holed as just an outside receiver.
“Juron would be our best slot receiver. He could play in the slot,” Nichol said. “The dude is a different guy.
“What I tell guys is that he’s a 5-10, 5-11 guy doing it at 6-4. And, boy, why wouldn’t you want that? A lot of the stuff Mike Thomas did (at Arizona), Juron can do. I really believe that.”
Nichol added: “We have had to be smart about saving him, but if you asked me who our best kick returner is, it’s Juron Criner. He’s a different Cat when he’s full speed and healthy.”
Criner just hasn’t been healthy enough this season, slowed by appendicitis, a hand injury and the knee problem. Criner has a team-high 50 catches for 607 yards and eight touchdowns, but former coach Mike Stoops said Criner was a “100-catch guy” when healthy.