Kevin Toliver knows he belongs, now he has to prove it to the Bears
By Robert Zeglinski
BOURBONNAIS – There were never any questions as to Kevin Toliver’s ability coming out of the 2018 NFL Draft. The 22-year-old rookie cornerback from LSU always stood out in college, showing evident talent that belongs in the big leagues. Through a combination of physicality and length thanks to his 6-foot-2 stature, Toliver regularly excelled in a three-year college career.
The main drawback to the Chicago-born and Jacksonville native in Toliver were character concerns brought out by a variety of previous coaches. Concerns that were prevalent enough to have him go undrafted in April. Talent only takes you so far when there’s looming risk.
Toliver’s slide and subsequent signing with the Bears never bothered him, though. If it did, he’s done an excellent job in channeling his energy to move forward. The past is definitively the past.
“I don’t really think about what happened in the draft,” said Toliver. “I’m just happy to be here, and ready to make the best of it.”
Make the best of it he has, as through a stellar first two days of Bears camp, Toliver already has several interceptions in team drills and has regularly made flash plays. This isn’t your typical undrafted free agent. This is a player too many NFL teams overlooked seamlessly fitting in with the Bears.
How Toliver’s shined is even better. While the Bears haven’t yet donned full pads, Toliver’s used his frame and speed to cover every blade of grass on his side of the field, no matter the opponent. He’s a player that understands how to use his size, and that he has to take the use of it a notch up as camp intensifies.
“It’s an advantage, but a lot of people don’t know how to use their size,” said Toliver. “That’s where I have to take it to the next level and learn from the guys that have been doing it in this program.”
Honing in on optimizing his frame is going to take time for Toliver. Those guys that are helping him and will continue to help him are the Bears’ veteran starting boundary cornerbacks: Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara. One of the more stable corner duos in football, if there’s anyone to refine technique issues from, it’s this pair.
Naturally then, Toliver has wasted no time picking their brains as the Bears have distinguished two main areas for Toliver to refine.
“My off-man and technique at the line of scrimmage with press,” are Toliver’s early focus to improve. It’s here, more specifically, where a stylistic difference between Fuller and Amukamara benefits the young corner the most.
“Prince (Amukamara) is a big press guy so I’ve been working with him on my press there. While Kyle (Fuller) is a big off-guy, so I’ve been working with him on my off technique.”
Amukamara and Fuller haven’t always been praised for their leadership and mentor roles. That makes it clear they’re doing much more for the Bears than just locking down opposing receivers by helping develop Toliver.
From a broad perspective, it’s important the Bears keep expectations for Toliver grounded. It’s easy to dominate when practice isn’t all systems go. The next step is for Toliver to string together these performances when he’s truly challenged. When he’s asked to support in run defense. When receivers can similarly match his physicality. And when he’s picked on in every facet.
Matt Nagy, more than anyone, stresses that this process and mold of Toliver is still very raw.
“Every time a guy has a turnover, they flash, and they stand out on tape,” said Nagy of Toliver’s early rise. “Having interceptions is important and he’s done that the past couple of days. But now let’s get the pads on and test him out in the run game and other areas.”
To his credit, Toliver knows he can’t get too high on his play either. Building a quality consistency takes priority over a couple of solid practices. Getting used to pushback from the competition is a part of the simple game Toliver has played for years. So the transition to this level weighs on him less. It’s in his mindset to improve, stay humble, and maintain an eagerness to be tested that will carry Toliver on.
“It’s just a start. It’s more consistency. That’s what you have to do in the NFL,” said Toliver. “At the end of the day, it’s just football.” R.
Robert is your guy for all things Bears. He’ll be with the team all through training camp. Find him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.