Update (Thursday, 8:02 PST): Bruce Cooper of NBC's 12 News in Phoenix writes on his blog that Juron Criner does not have cancer, as some rumors suggested. He says that Criner was hospitalized after undergoing brain tests but he also has an ill family member.
Let's say that, as of now, Juron Criner won't be lining up on the Arizona Wildcats' line of scrimmage come August. Maybe he won't play for Arizona at all in 2011. With the reports coming out of a couple media outlets saying his season is at risk because of injury, illness, family issues or whatever, what's that mean for the Wildcats moving into the season?
As I believed when more information became available earlier Wednesday, there's plenty of depth and talent to give Nick Foles plenty of other options should the potential All-American not be able to go. See David Douglas, Richard Morrison, Terrence Miller and David Roberts. But then I realized this: none of those I mentioned have the size, strength and downright playmaking abilities of Criner.
That's because it's easy to think about the field of WRs from last season, one that didn't include Texas Longhorns transfer Dan Buckner. A 6-foot-4, (at least) 208 pound force, Buckner could make the transition into a Criner-less season seamless. Of course, we've been dreaming of what BOTH of them could amount to on the field at the same time since the bludgeoning loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys to end last season.
But worst-case scenario, Buckner might keep this receiving core steady and give Foles an equally potent go-to wideout.
"He's got all the skills you're looking for," coach Mike Stoops told the Daily Star during spring drills. "He's got the size and speed and strength. He's got great timing on the football. He possesses a lot of the skills necessary to be a complete receiver."
The transfer came after he was released by Texas following Buckner's arrest for criminal trespassing and resisting arrest, according to the Star. The Wildcats offered new scenery and just as much opportunity in its pass-happy offense.
Now, the exact contributions that Buckner gives the Wildcats depends on how he's been meshing with Foles. He's had a year of sitting out and learning the playbook, so learning the system shouldn't be the issue. His 45 catches for 442 yards during his sophomore season as a Longhorn is not quite, yet equal in experience to Criner's 41 catches for 656 yards in his second go-around.
"I picked up the offense pretty quick," he told the Star. "I feel good about knowing the plays. Now, it's all about timing. I'm just trying to get my timing down with Foles."
Could his ceiling be as high? His physical build says yes. The mental connection with the playbook, and most importantly with Foles, will be the difference. For his sake, now is the time of opportunity, though its thanks to an unknown and serious situation (so-saysJon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News).
Buckner has a ticking clock to work his ass off.
Whether it's tomorrow, a week from now, or a month from know when Criner's situation becomes public, Dan Buckner has the opportunity to quietly become the man at Arizona. On top of that, he can become the man that no Pac-12 school or otherwise has scouted within the Arizona offense. Though I suppose teams could assume his role to be like Criner's from last season, this is a different animal in the same zoo.
And if this whole thing is nothing more than hearsay, well, then the hard work will just make the Arizona offense -- with both Criner and Buckner -- all the more dangerous.