Jason Ivester

Spring Countdown: Cornerbacks

With the Razorbacks closing in on spring football, HawgsDaily is breaking down who we believe Arkansas' starters are at all 22 positions. We'll reveal a portion of the starting lineup each day through March 28, when the Razorbacks begin practice.

CornerbackRyan Pulley

Jr. | 5-11 | 198 | Fort Myers (Fla.) Island Coast

2016 stats: 13 games (12 starts), 47 tackles (33 solo), 0.5 tackles for loss, 13 pass breakups, 2 interceptions (75 yards, 1 touchdown), 1 fumble recovery

Why he'll start in 2017: Pulley emerged as a legitimate shutdown corner during his sophomore season, finishing second in the SEC in pass breakups behind only a senior from LSU. There were moments when he struggled, but that is to be expected from a young player in his first season as a full-time starter.

Why this spring is important: Those "rookie mistakes" are precisely why this spring is so important for Pulley. If he can continue to develop under defensive backs coach/defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, he could become one of the top corners in the conference. Also, he's not longer a young player. As a junior with several starts under his belt, Pulley will be a leader in the secondary. Only one of Arkansas' defensive back signees was an early enrollee, but when the others make it to campus, Pulley will be key to helping bring them along.

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CornerbackHenre' Toliver

Sr. | 6-1 | 185 | Marrero (La.) Archbishop Rummel

2016 stats: 13 games (10 starts), 45 tackles (30 solo), 1 tackle for loss, 6 pass breakups, 1 interception (70 yards, 1 touchdown)

Why he'll start in 2017: During his true freshman season, Toliver burst onto the scene by shutting down Alabama receiver and Heisman Trophy finalist Amari Cooper, limiting him to two receptions for 22 yards. However, he hasn't developed at the rate Arkansas fans probably would have liked. He got beat more than the Razorbacks' other defensive backs last season, but that can partially be attributed to him playing out of position, as injuries forced him to start at nickel. Toliver will also be the second-most experienced defender on the team, with 24 career starts.

Why this spring is important: Heading into his final season, it's now or never for Toliver to take that next step as a top-notch cornerback in the SEC. He needs to become more consistent for the Razorbacks' to have a successful pass defense in 2017. Also, several newcomers - led by four-star signee Chevin Calloway - will be chomping at the bit once they get to campus in the summer. If Toliver is going to hold on to his job, he needs to prove he's worthy this spring.

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NickelKevin Richardson

R-Sr. | 6-0 | 178 | Jacksonville (Ark.)

2016 stats: 1 game (1 start), 7 tackles (2 solo)

Why he'll start in 2017: One of the biggest "what ifs" of the 2016 season is "What if Richardson stayed healthy?" How big of an impact would that have made for Arkansas' secondary if he could remain at nickel and Toliver provide some depth at cornerback? Alas, we'll never know because Richardson tore his pectoral muscle during the season-opener against Louisiana Tech and missed the rest of the season. He is recovered now and should be good to go this season. Although he began his career as a walk-on, head coach Bret Bielema has always been high on Richardson, eventually rewarding him with a scholarship.

Why this spring is important: Returning from an injury is always difficult because even after you regain full strength, you have to regain confidence in the injured area. This spring will be big for Richardson to get physical for the first time in several months and get a feel for his recovered pectoral muscle. Also, Bielema has said he could compete for playing time at cornerback and safety, one of the few guys in his career capable of playing anywhere in the secondary. That will be something else to keep an eye on when the Razorbacks strap on their pads next week.

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Here are links to our previous breakdowns, in case you missed any of them:

Quarterback/running back

Wide receivers

Tight ends

Interior offensive line

Offensive tackles

Safeties


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