Arizona Wildcats wide receiver Dan Buckner is wearing a new number to honor his grandfather.
Buckner has switched from No. 15 to No. 4.
“My grandma died last year and my grandfather had a heart attack. His number was always No. 44. That’s why I used to wear 4, because I didn’t want to wear No. 44 playing football,” Buckner said.
“We had some talks and I wanted my old number back and he wanted me to wear it.”
Buckner said his grandfather was a high school basketball player in Mississippi, although he never played in college.
“He was pretty good, though,” Buckner said. “Back in the day.”
Buckner wore No. 4 at the University of Texas before his transfer to Arizona after his sophomore season. He is the team’s leading returning receiver after catching 42 passes for 606 yards and two touchdowns last season.
“He’s a senior and we’re expecting an awful lot out of him,” coach Rich Rodriguez said.
“We’re going to push Dan as hard or harder than any of the receivers because we expect so much out of him. He has to have a big year for us. I think he will.”
Buckner, along with sophomores Austin Hill and Tyler Slavin, figure to lead the receiving corps after the Wildcats sustained heavy personnel losses at the position — Juron Criner (75 catches, 956 yards, 11 TDs), David Douglas (65 catches for 666 yards), Gino Crump (65 catches for 610 yards) and David Roberts (39 catches, 413 yards).
* * *
Pat Kirwan, an NFL insider for CBSSports.com, had an interesting and positive take on Criner, whose draft projections have been all over the board.
Kirwan had a retired defensive back/coach evaluate this draft class at receiver, and that scout pegged Criner as a “diamond in the rough.”
The former scout/coach came to me for discussion with the following report: The wide receiver has good hands, good open field skills, quick feet, plays hard, gets open, competes for the ball and is more than a willing blocker. He is a good fit as a ‘Z’ in a west coast system. I had my old scout also evaluate Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd during the same session and he was still high on the mystery man.
The receiver’s name is Juron Criner from Arizona, and his draft status ranges from the 10th-best receiver to not even in the top 20 according to some draft analysts. Some describe him as a guy with subpar straight line speed, relies too heavily on his size down field and inconsistent hands. Go back and look at the report on Marques Colston of the Saints from 2006 and it’s similar. That report was wrong and damaged Colston enough that he went in the seventh round. Eighty-six games later Colston has 449 receptions and 48 touchdowns.
Finally, if your team happens to be looking for a big receiver with production and a great attitude then Criner could be your man in the early fourth round. What a bargain!
* * *
Rodriguez is working without a depth chart and cautions to not read too much into scrimmage lineups, but junior Sione Tuihalamaka has started both scrimmages at nose guard in the new 3-3-5 scheme.
What does Rodriguez and coordinator Jeff Casteel look for in a nose guard?
“There is probably an assumption that the nose needs to be a big plugger,” Rodriguez said. “We like big guys. There is no question.”
Tuihalamaka, who is listed at 6-2 and 275 pounds, doesn’t exactly fit the plugger prototype, but that’s OK, too, Rodriguez said.
“The nose just needs to be big enough and active enough to force a double team,” he said.
One of the ends in the three-man front is traditionally more the size of a defensive tackle, with the other end being the speed rush guy.
* * *
Junior walk-on kicker Jake Smith, who has played at Syracuse and Youngstown State, has split placekicking duties with John Bonano in the two scrimmages.
Bonano was a steadying force after he took over in midseason last year, but he was only 3 of 5 in the team’s first scrimmage, including one that was blocked and another that was tipped (although it still went in).
Smith has a big leg but he also has suffered from having attempts tipped or blocked in the scrimmages.
“I don’t want to say he has been a pleasant surprise because we thought he had some ability from watching some highlights of him,” Rodriguez said of Smith last week. “But I think he’s having an outstanding spring. I think John Bonano has a great leg and he’s a good, solid kicker, but we need another one.”