Juron Criner burst onto the scene soon after the Raiders selected him in the 2012 NFL draft. Criner made jaw-dropping catches, eye-opening adjustments to off-the-mark throws and head-turning plays on regular occasion.
It seemed as if the Raiders got a steal in the fourth round of the draft last year, when Criner remained on the board when the Raiders turn rolled around.
Fast forward to today, it seems almost incomprehensible how Criner is buried on the bench, deemed not worthy of even being one of 46 players active on game days, viewed as a less-attractive option than 2013 seventh-rounder Brice Butler, 2012 undrafted free agent Rod Streater and free-agent signee Andre Holmes.
“I’m not really sure what it is,” Criner said Monday, when asked what’s keeping him from being on the field when the Raiders play. “I just come out, work hard, do what I’m told to do and wait for my number to come up.”
Criner was deactivated for all six of the Raiders games so far. Coach Dennis Allen said it’s incumbent upon Criner to work hard every day, impress the coaches and, most important, be consistent.
In the end, Allen added, the way the players perform on the practice field goes a long way toward dictating who the Raiders play in games.
“The guys that go out and practice the best, the guys that make the most plays in practice then make the most plays in the game, those are the guys that go out there and play,” Allen said.
Criner said he hasn’t spoken with Allen or offensive coordinator Greg Olson about his situation. He did speak with wide receives coach Ted Gilmore.
“He told me a few things,” Criner said of Gilmore, without elaborating. “At the end of the day, all I could do is still wait.”
At one point, Criner was asked if there was an issue with his work ethic. He said that wasn’t an issue at all.
Just the same, he added, his approach to practice has changed since he joined the Raiders.
“My practice habits are definitely getting a lot better,” Criner said. “So, I feel like it’s really helping me a lot being in this situation and having to take practice a lot more serious. So, it’s definitely helping me as a player.”
Allen said Criner brings something of value to the equation when it comes to the receiving corps, even if Criner hasn’t been active for any games this season.
“He’s an athletic guy,” Allen said. “He’s a big guy. He’s got good hands. But he’s got to be able to do it on a more consistent basis day in and day out.”
— Allen said everyone was on hand at the team’s year-round facility Monday and that no one was excused.
He also said that he won’t comment on players’ injuries until Wednesday, the earliest he is required to do so by the league.
Therefore, no official updates on the status of injured offensive linemen such as Stefen Wisniewski, Andre Gurode, Tony Pashos and Menelik Watson, none of whom practiced today.
Allen went so far as to say that he is confident in the five players that worked with the first-team offense today if he had to go with them Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers — Khalif Barnes, Lucas Nix, Lamar Mady, Mike Brisiel and Matt McCants.
— The Raiders are off again Tuesday. They resume practice Wednesday in preparation for their game against the Steelers.
Suddenly, the Steelers seem like a far more formidable opponent than they did earlier this month, when they started 0-4.
The Steelers are fresh from a victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens for their second straight win.
The Raiders have recent history on their side, in addition to being fresh after a week off. They beat the Steelers at the Coliseum last season and haven’t lost to the Steelers in Oakland since 1995.
— The three quarterbacks on the Raiders rosters — Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin on the active roster and Tyler Wilson on the practice squad — combined for five years’ NFL experience. And that’s counting this season as a full season for all three.
Pryor has made six starts in his three-year NFL career. McGloin and Wilson are rookies that haven’t played a single down in the Raiders first six games this season.
It stands to reason that all three could benefit from the presence of a veteran quarterback, something Pryor had the past two seasons with Carson Palmer.
Maybe so, Allen said, but that isn’t enough to compel the Raiders to sign a veteran backup right now.
— The Raiders signed Jason Foster to their practice squad. He fills the vacancy created by the release of running back George Winn last week.
— The Raiders will play a home game on an all-grass field for the first time in 2013 this Sunday.
They played their two home exhibition games and first three home regular-season games on a field set up for baseball because the A’s season remained in full swing.
Now that the A’s are eliminated, the Raiders are free to play the remainder of their games on an all-grass surface.
— The Raiders lost each of their past 10 games coming off a bye. Allen said he and his players are well aware of that ignominious stat.
Just the same, Allen told his players, the past won’t affect what happens Sunday or any other game. True, indeed. Still, there’s no doubt there’s added pressure on the Raiders to end the skid.