FAYETTEVILLE -- For the Arkansas Razorbacks to pressure a quarterback the way new defensive coordinator John Chavis wants and is known for doing, their cornerbacks need to excel in man-to-man coverage.
That way Chavis can call the blitzes that helped Texas A&M lead the SEC with 43 sacks last season when he coordinated its defense.
"We know we're important, because you need lock-down corners to be able to send that kind of pressure," University of Arkansas junior cornerback Ryan Pulley said. "We feel like we can compete at a high level with anybody."
Pulley's return this season is a huge boost for the defense after he suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in the second quarter of last year's opener against Florida A&M.
As a sophomore in 2016, Pulley had 13 pass breakups, 47 tackles and 2 interceptions.
"It was real tough sitting at home last season and watching games, knowing I could have been out there helping my teammates," Pulley said. "But now I'm better than ever. I'm stronger, more physical, faster."
Pulley was back to full speed for spring practice.
"We saw everything that had been said about Ryan when we got here was true, and maybe more," cornerbacks coach Mark Smith said. "He's a tremendous person, and he's a great leader within our secondary room.
"He's absolutely confident, and you have to be to play that position. He's got the skill set that it takes to be successful on the perimeter.
"What I love about Ryan is he just continues to work. He's always working to try to get better. He's great right now, but he's always working to push himself to be the best that he can can be."
Sophomore Chevin Calloway is set to start at the other cornerback spot after having 10 tackles and two pass breakups last season as a backup.
"Playing with Ryan, it's a confidence boost to know I've got somebody on the other side that's going to lock down his receiver," Calloway said. "Knowing he's going to lock down, I've got to lock down as well on my side of the island."
The respect opposing teams figure to have for Pulley means more passes coming toward Calloway's side.
"Oh, for sure," Calloway said. "I'm glad he has the reputation because it gives me an opportunity to put my name on the map and show what I'm capable of doing under the pressure and attention of people coming at me.
"It's all a mental state having to keep your confidence up and competing and going hard. Learning and getting better each and every day and perfecting my craft."
Pulley said he's confident in Calloway as a first-time starter.
"Chev is doing good," Pulley said. "He really doesn't talk too much. He just soaks in all the information and goes out there and grinds every day. I try to lead him the best I can and show him the ropes."
Chavis said Pulley and Calloway came into fall camp off strong performances in spring practice and good summer workouts.
"I think both of those guys are really better and more mature than they were in the spring," Chavis said. "Now we'll see how they match up against some of the best receivers in the country, because we're going to see them right here in the SEC."
Pulley said the Razorbacks have another strong cover cornerback in junior Britto Tutt, who has battled injuries since transferring to Arkansas from Ventura (Calif.) Community College but now is healthy.
Tutt redshirted as a sophomore in 2016 after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in fall camp and undergoing surgery. Last season he played limited snaps in eight games as a backup and had two tackles after recovering from another surgery on his left knee for a meniscus tear.
"There hasn't been a lot of talk around me," Tutt said of being under the radar going into the season. "It's like everybody's forgot. But I'm trying to make them remember. I'm going to make them remember."
Tutt, working at second-team right cornerback behind Calloway, said he didn't have confidence in his knee at times last season.
"But now I can run all day with no knee problems," he said. "This is the best I've ever moved."
Redshirt freshman Jarques McClellion has been getting some snaps at second-team cornerback.
"He's improved a lot," Tutt said of McClellion. "Man is his thing, and with coach Chavis, we're going to be playing a lot of that. So he's in a perfect position.
"He's small -- he's like 170 -- but he's aggressive. He plays like he's 190."
Senior Kevin Richardson, projected to be the starting nickel back, is expected to miss at least the first two games after undergoing surgery for a foot injury.
Earlier in the summer, the NCAA granted Richardson a sixth season of eligibility. He didn't do much practicing in the spring because the coaches weren't sure then whether he'd be cleared to play.
"We were waiting on that sixth year of eligibility for Kevin, so we went through spring, really, planning on not having him in a worst-case scenario," Smith said. "The injury now is very unfortunate. I feel for him, and hopefully he can come back quick."
Junior Nate Dalton figures into the cornerback rotation and has been getting work at nickel back along with junior D'Vone McClure, sophomore Derrick Munson and freshman Joe Foucha. Freshman LaDarrius Bishop is working at cornerback.
"We've got a lot of guys that have shown some ability, but we've got to build depth," Smith said. "You can't go into a season with just two cornerbacks that you're counting on.
"We need to have four, five, six guys that can play. Especially when we get into some of our sub packages and we have extra defensive backs on the field.
"We feel like we came a long way in spring ball from where we were to where we finished up, but we've got to continue developing our guys this fall. In order to challenge the receivers in this league, a lot of times you're playing man coverage. So we've got to be really good at that."
Tutt said he's confident the cornerbacks -- led by Pulley -- can provide the coverage needed to make Chavis' pressure defense work. He said he believes Pulley is the best defensive back in the SEC.
"He isn't worried about anything, he's very patient," Tutt said. "With me, I think too much. That's what he's helped me with, being patient and not thinking about too much. Just play."
Cornerbacks and nickel backs
KEY LOSS Henre Toliver
RETURNING STARTER Ryan Pulley (1 start in 2017 before season-ending injury, 12 starts in 2016), Kevin Richardson (9 starts in 2017)
WHO’S BACK Chevin Calloway, Britto Tutt, Jarques McClellion, Nate Dalton, Derrick Munson
WHO’S NEW Joe Foucha, D’Vone McClure, LaDarrius Bishop
WALK-ON Nathan Parodi
ANALYSIS The versatile Richardson — who can play any position in the secondary — is expected to be out for at least the first two games because of a foot injury, and the Razorbacks need some inexperienced players such as McClure, Munson, Dalton or Foucha to play at nickel back. Pulley is one of the best cornerbacks in the SEC and back to full speed after missing the final 11 games last season because of pectoral injury. Calloway has moved into a starting spot with Kamren Curl’s move to safety. Calloway said he’s looking forward to being challenged when teams decide not to test Pulley. Tutt said he’s healthy and moving better than ever after being plagued by knee injuries the previous two seasons.
Sports on 08/08/2018
Print Headline: Pressed for pressure