FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Quick. Name the only four-year starter on the Arkansas defense?
Time’s up. If you named Henre’ Toliver, give yourself props. The senior Razorbacks cornerback has been a first-team player since his initial season at Arkansas. Yet, his position coach and defensive coordinator, Paul Rhoads, wants Toliver to make one final leap in this, his last season.
Toliver is sure enough ready. He smiled when asked about his preparedness for the season — a smile of pure happiness. More than anything else, really, he’s glad Kevin Richardson is healthy. Now, Toliver can return to his preferred position and out of that stinking slot.
“Welcome back, Kevin,” Toliver laughed. “Thank you, I can play corner [now].”
It was on the outside where Toliver established himself in 2014. That season’s cornerback group had experienced players such as Jared Collins, D.J. Dean and senior Tevin Mitchel, but it still had a role for Toliver. It wasn’t meaningless late-season duty. Toliver was a regular in the rotation in the early going.
His sophomore season, when Arkansas began to play even more 4-2-5, Toliver took over in the slot for the departed Mitchel. Collins and Dean held the outside. Toliver saw more action, because he was the third cornerback on the depth chart instead of the fourth. Then, last season, Toliver was all prepared to go back to his spot on the perimeter. Things started well enough. Then, Richardson went down. The nickel back was lost for the season in the opener.
And guess who had experience in the slot?
“You’re basically a linebacker [in the slot],” Toliver said. “As Coach Rhoads says, you have the best seat in the house as a nickel, so you’re seeing like the mesh point between the running back and the corner. As a corner, I don’t have to see all that. … That’s not what I wanted to be.”
Toliver handled his duty like a team-first player. But there were games where it was clear he was ill-suited for work in the slot. He made it clear at times during the season that he wanted to be back on the perimeter.
Rhoads didn’t mince words when talking about his expectations for Toliver. The first-year Arkansas defensive coordinator — and second-year defensive backs coach — said back in June he was seeking a bit more from his senior.
“In fairness to Henre’, he had to play the nickel last year, and that’s really not his spot,” Rhoads said. “Having him back at corner where he’s more … as much experience as he has, [I] would like to see his level of play match that. He’s going into his contract year.”
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