FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Ranking the positional groups at Arkansas, it wouldn’t take long to check off cornerback. That unit might rate highest on the defense. It is top-3 overall. Maybe higher.
A lot of that has to do with Ryan Pulley. No player entered 2016 having made more progress. Now a junior, Pulley went from getting almost no field time and making mistakes when he did play, to being among the SEC’s top cornerbacks. He had 15 passes defended, third highest in the SEC last season. His 13 pass break-ups were second best.
Two lines of thinking exist on pass defense. Pulley was either that good or teams threw at him more often to avoid the other side of the field.
Bet on the former.
“That’s my goal,” Pulley said. “I’m trying to be that. I’m definitely trying to be that guy. But I’m just going to keep grinding and play it out.”
Not just him
Opposite Pulley is senior Henre’ Toliver, who enters his fourth season as a starter. Toliver is the best tackler and has the highest upside of any Razorbacks cornerback. Last season was OK by his standards, but Toliver has been a strength in the secondary.
Kevin Richardson II is the wild-card defensive back. A starter two years ago, Richardson was injured in the first Arkansas game of 2016. He was the primary slot cornerback when the Razorbacks used a 4-2-5 scheme. But with a change f0r 2017 to the 3-4 plan that requires four defensive backs, Richardson for now finds himself a reserve.
Coach Bret Bielema hinted a move to safety could be in the cards.
“We have him at corner, but he also could play nickel when we get to our nickel packages,” Bielema told wholehogsports.com last month. “In addition, he can also play safety. He’s one of the few guys in my entire coaching career that literally and honestly can play all four positions.”
Pulley and Toliver should be solid at cornerback, and defensive backs could help ease early-spring concerns. Given its poor performance last season, the run defense could be a focal point. There’s plenty of work left as Hogs coaches install their defensive systems.
So if the secondary is good, it is an early plus. Pulley is sure it is.
“I think this is one of the best secondaries I’ve been around,” Pulley said.