Chicago Bears rookie Toliver pressed into action vs. Cards
The Bears went into Sunday’s desert matchup against the Cardinals already shorthanded at cornerback, since backup Marcus Cooper was inactive with a hamstring injury.
Then, the third-quarter hamstring injury to starter Prince Amukamara thinned the ranks even more, thrusting undrafted rookie Kevin Toliver into the fray for the first time. In the moment he realized Amukamara would be sidelined, Toliver had one thought.
“It was my time,” he said. “Just got to make the best of it.”
Naturally, the Cardinals went right after the new guy, targeting Toliver throughout the fourth quarter. The rookie got burned on a double move by fellow rookie Christian Kirk for 32 yards, but Toliver kept three other plays in front of him after gains of 4, 10 and 8 yards and had tight coverage on an incompletion to Chad Williams.
“Yeah, they’ll do that,” Toliver said with a knowing smile, when he was asked if the Cardinals were picking on him. “As long as I’m out there, I know they’re going to throw my way. I just have to be ready; be prepared.”
After Amukamara went out, when the Bears were in base defense, nickel CB Bryce Callahan moved to the outside, along with the other starter, Kyle Fuller. But in nickel situations, Callahan moved back into the slot with Toliver on the outside across from Fuller.
“It went good,” Toliver said. “Got my feet wet. Just got to get more comfortable with the defense out there. Communicate (more) with those guys that have been out there, since I’m a new guy.”
Toliver knows he was at fault on the long ball to Kirk, which came on third-and-5 from the Arizona 45-yard line.
“Eyes were in the wrong area,” he said. “That was a mistake on me. But it was third down, (and I was) trying to make a play. Just can’t let it happen again. Gotta learn from it.”
With Cooper questionable and Amukamara probably doubtful this week, Toliver may have more opportunities to learn against the Buccaneers, the NFL’s No. 1 offense in total yards and passing yards. Both WRs Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson are averaging over 100 yards per game and each has three touchdowns.
“They’re a high-powered offense,” Toliver said. “They like to take shots, so just got to have a good week of preparation, learn form the guys, watch a lot of film and go out there Sunday and do what I do best. It’s going to be an honor playing against those guys (Evans and Jackson), but at the same time, I’ve got to bring my ‘A’ game because they’re going to be bringing their ‘A’ game. Just have to have another great week of preparation. I embrace that challenge. I love that challenge. I love this stage of my career – (it’s) just guys trying me. (I’ve) got to make a name for myself.”
It’s not as if the bright lights and the big stage are unfamiliar to Toliver, who started 18 games in three seasons at LSU, including a career-high eight as a freshman. But his production gradually decreased because of injuries and inconsistencies, and he left school a year early but went undrafted. Still, the experience of competing in the SEC and playing his home games at Tiger Stadium, or as it’s better known, Death Valley, with a capacity of 102,231, prepared him for the NFL.
“At LSU they’ve really got more fans in the stadium than a lot of NFL teams,” Toliver said. “That aspect of the game wasn’t really nerve-wracking for me. It was really just not making a mistake and (when I did) just learning from that mistake and (knowing I) can’t let it happen again.”