Juron Criner spent the past 2 1/2 weeks consulting, instructing, watching and scheming.

"I tried to get my 'coach' on," he said with a smile.

Finally, the Arizona Wildcats' star wide receiver is back playing.

He has returned from an in-practice collision with cornerback Robert Golden that caused a concussion and facial lacerations, Criner figures to be in the starting lineup when the Wildcats open their season next Friday at Toledo.

How much he plays is another matter altogether.

Criner, 20, did not run or work out during his down-time because of Arizona's concussion protocol. He practiced Wednesday for the first time since Aug. 7.

"He's rusty, but he's excited," outside receivers coach David Nichol said. "The concern now is how many plays he can play in a game, in a row. That's a concern, but obviously he's been around a whole lot, and he's a tough kid. He's going to play as many plays as he possibly can."

A healthy Criner "is our go-to receiver," coach Mike Stoops said.

The 6-foot-4-inch, 210-pound Criner caught 45 passes for a team-high 582 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago. His 44.8 yards per game was also a UA best.

But it was Criner's big-game performances, more than the statistics, that endeared him to the UA faithful.

His 71-yard catch-and-run against Oregon gave the Wildcats a lead that, had it held, likely would have given the program its first-ever Rose Bowl berth.

Two games later, Criner caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Foles that beat USC and put the Wildcats in the Holiday Bowl.

More is expected of the Las Vegas native as a junior. As the team's starting "X" receiver, Criner will be asked to stretch the field vertically and serve as a deep threat - or decoy.

Criner averaged 13 yards per catch a year ago; his mere presence on the field will force defenses to account for the deep play.

"A lot of teams don't like to get beat deep," he said. "It gives us a chance to run the draw, to get some easy plays."

Criner said he's fully recovered from the injury, which occurred when Golden drilled him on a play over the middle during practice. Criner suffered a concussion and facial lacerations and received stitches to close a gash on the inside of his mouth.

The Cats' top receiver said the time away from practice was a blessing and a curse.

"I viewed it as a little bit of both," he said. "It was hard because I couldn't practice with my teammates and take the reps, but it was a blessing because I feel fresh, I feel relaxed, I feel confident, and I feel ready to go. The biggest thing is, I got a chance to get a lot of mental reps."

On StarNet: Follow the Cats as the season approaches on Ryan Finley's blog at go.azstarnet.com/finley

Baxter named to Rimington Award watch list

Colin Baxter has been named a preseason candidate for the Rimington Trophy, given annually to the nation's top center.

Baxter, 23, figures to anchor the UA's offensive line this fall. He has started 37 games for the Wildcats at center or guard. Most consider Baxter and USC starter and former Salpointe Catholic standout Kris O'Dowd to be the two best centers in the Pac-10.

O'Dowd also was named to the Rimington Trophy's preseason watch list.

Up next

• What: Arizona at Toledo - season opener

• When: 5 p.m. next Friday


• TV: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

Ryan Finley