ARKANSAS FOOTBALL POSITION ANALYSIS CORNERBACKS:

Pulley no slouch on confidence

By: Bob Holt
Published: Monday, August 21, 2017
Arkansas cornerback Ryan Pulley runs through drills Friday, July 28, 2017, during practice.
Photo by David Gottschalk
Arkansas cornerback Ryan Pulley runs through drills Friday, July 28, 2017, during practice.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Ryan Pulley didn't hesitate when the Arkansas Razorbacks junior was asked if he's one of the best cornerbacks in the SEC.

"Oh yeah," Pulley said. "Easily."

KEY LOSS Jared Collins

RETURN STARTERS Ryan Pulley (12 starts in 2016), Henre Toliver (10 starts)

WHO’S BACK Kevin Richardson, Britto Tutt, Nate Dalton

WHO’S NEW Kamren Curl, Chevin Calloway, Korey Hernandez, Jarques McClellion, Jordan Curtis

ANALYSIS Pulley is strong in coverage. He had 13 pass breakups and 2 interceptions last season. Toliver is a physical corner with 24 career starts. He’s moving back outside after covering slot receivers most of the last two seasons. Richardson is back after missing all but the first game last season because of a pectoral injury and has the versatility to play all he cornerback spots as well as safety. Tutt, a junior college transfer, missed all of last season because of a knee injury but is being counted on to play as a backup. Among the newcomers, Curl and Calloway have the best chance to contribute this season.

Pulley said it's not about being boastful, but confident. Last season he started 12 games and had 2 interceptions for 75 yards in returns and 13 pass breakups.

According to statistics from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, of the 63 passes thrown Pulley's direction, only 28 were completed for 336 yards.

"I've got confidence in my skills and the coach I've got," he said. "Since high school I've always had the confidence I could be the best, but I'm trying to get better every day."

Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, who coaches the secondary, likes Pulley's attitude.

"To play cornerback you'd better be a confident guy," Rhoads said. "You'd also better be a guy that has a short memory. I think Ryan has both of those traits.

"Ryan is confident and he talks a lot in his game, but he studies and he works at his craft. In my opinion he has the ability to back up how he approaches the game.

"It is a game and the last time I checked, and any time you're playing a game you should enjoy yourself and have fun and that's Ryan's approach to football."

Pulley returned an interception for a touchdown against Texas State last season but said he missed the opportunity for more scores when he couldn't hold onto passes against Auburn and Missouri.

"I'm looking forward to making catches on those passes I dropped last season," he said. "I know I've got to do that to take my game to another level."

Pulley said he wants to learn from his mistakes but not dwell on them.

"If someone catches a pass on me, I don't get down," he said. "I just go out and compete on the next play."

Pulley leads an experienced group of cornerbacks along with seniors Henre Toliver and Kevin Richardson.

Toliver is moving back to an outside cornerback spot for the first time since he freshman season -- with the loss of Jared Collins -- after playing nickel and focusing on slot receivers the previous two years. He has 24 starts in 37 games with career totals of 118 tackles and 5 interceptions for 128 return yards and 15 pass breakups,

"I feel more than ready," Toliver said of playing the right cornerback spot with Pulley on the left. "Coach Rhoads does an excellent job at preparing us."

Senior Kevin Richardson, who missed the final 12 games last season after tearing a pectoral muscle in the opener against Louisiana Tech, is fully recovered and can play cornerback, nickel back or safety.

"After I had to watch all those games I missed, it makes me feel like I want to go out and make plays," said Richardson, who had 44 tackles and an interception in 2015. "I'm hungry to play again."

Britto Tutt, a junior college transfer, is back in the rotation after redshirting last season when he suffered a knee injury in training camp.

"He's ahead of where he was last August when he went down," Rhoads said. "We certainly need him to be there, because we need him to be part or our two-deep at the corner spot."

True freshmen Kamren Curl and Chevin Calloway are practicing well enough to likely earn playing time.

"I feel like Kamren and Chevin are taking big strides," Richardson said. "They look the part already. If they learn the defense, they can play right now."

Rhoads said he believes the Razorbacks are building good depth at cornerback, and it's a big plus having Pulley, Toliver and Richardson leading the group.

"I like the fact there is experience there and they've played a number of snaps," Rhoads said. "Any you've got that, you've got a step up with what you're trying to accomplish."

Wide receiver Jonathan Nance, a junior college transfer, said he's been impressed going against all of the cornerbacks, but especially Pulley.

"Ryan will rough you up, jam you at the line real good," Nance said. "He's very physical, and he's pretty good on reading what you're going to do."

Richardson said Pulley always practices sand plays at a high level.

"I feel like Ryan could be up there mentioned with the Jim Thorpe Award," Richardson said of the trophy for the nation's top defensive back. "He's that caliber of guy.

"He's a smart player. He likes to know why he's doing what he's doing, and Coach Rhoads points that out all the time. He asks questions in the meeting room to learn why certain things work the way they do and where he should fit in.

"Ryan has got good hands, he's got good feet, he's good in press coverage, he's good in off coverage. He's good with really any situation you want to put him in."

Media voted for three preseason All-SEC teams, but Pulley wasn't listed among the top six cornerbacks.

"I saw that," Pulley said. "I think about it every night.

"It doesn't make me mad. It just motivates me to go harder every practice."

Pulley said he wants to lead by example with his work ethic, but also is being more vocal this season.

"I try to come out there every day and give the guys more energy," he said. "I want a good vibe going into practice so we're all excited to have a good day."

Sports on 08/21/2017

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