Like every current NFL player and the newest crop of them with aspirations of playing football at the highest level, former LSU star Terrence Toliver is in wait-and-see mode.
With the NFL in a protracted lockout and the 2011 season very much in question, that doesn’t make Toliver’s situation unique.
But the tall, lanky Texan didn’t think his future would have quite as much uncertainty as Toliver was straddled with when the NFL Draft came and went in April.
For three days, the former Tiger watched the draft go by, round-by-round, pick-by-pick, and his phone never rang. Despite being one of LSU’s top receivers in each of his final three seasons, the 6-foot-5 senior never got picked.
“It was very tough,” he said this week. “I was expecting to go the second day and didn’t hear my name called. Then I thought I’d go in the fourth round on the third day because I was in contact with a lot of teams, but they kept passing me up and that was frustrating. I had my family there for support and that helped. I was more hurt than anybody. They did a great job of helping me through that.”
Toliver’s exclusion ended an impressive run of LSU receivers being taken in the draft, most recently Brandon LaFell by Carolina in 2010.
More personally to Toliver, it was a punch in the gut for a player who played a key role as a leader in 2010 that was nearly as important as what he did between the white lines.
Toliver was the Tigers’ top pass-catching threat last fall with 41 grabs for 579 yards and five touchdowns. He saved his best for last, snaring five passes for 112 yards and three scores in LSU’s 41-24 Cotton Bowl triumph against Texas A&M.
That breakout seemed to set the stage for a promising transition to pro ball for the Hempstead, Texas, native.
But a hamstring injury at LSU’s pro day threw a kink into Toliver’s three-month audition for NFL scouts. Then when he got to the league’s combine in Indianapolis, a shoulder problem that has persisted since he was in high school also haunted him.
“It kind of worried me from the beginning because I knew I’d have to bench press and I wouldn’t be able to do it up to their standards,” Toliver said. “They asked about injuries and I was honest and told them about the shoulder and about the hamstring I pulled at pro day. That didn’t seem to bother them.”
Baton Rouge-based NFL scout and draft expert Chris Landry said Toliver’s skills were good, but not great compared to a talented crop of receivers in the 2011 draft pool.
“He has good size but he didn’t measure as really strong, he was inconsistent catching the ball, though he flashes good hands, and he didn’t have great separation skills and didn’t seem thrilled about going over the middle,” Landry said. “He’s one of many guys who are a lot like him. There are some pretty good players at that position who also weren’t drafted and he didn’t do anything to stand out among them or the other receivers who have more raw potential.”
Not that Toliver couldn’t redirect the opinion on him.
Landry said Toliver’s size and the potential of reliable hands could translate into him being an effective red-zone receiver, especially if he works on concentration and being more aggressive when the ball is in the air.
“He’s going to have to prove to people that he fits a role,” Landry said. “He could be a big, tough receiver type if he puts some weight on and shows he doesn’t mind going over the middle and being physical.
“There’s no reason he can’t be a threat in the red zone and be a perimeter receiver and be effective going over the middle. That’s a temperament that’s an acquired taste, though, and he’s got to be willing to do that. His pro future is going to depend on his temperament and the ability to do those kinds of things as much as anything else.”
Toliver’s request? Just give him a chance.
As an undrafted free agent, the former LSU star can shop around for a team where his skills fit best … whenever the lockout is lifted. In the meantime, he is back in classes and working toward completing his degree.
“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I’m a competitor and whatever team sees fit to give me a chance, I’m going to work as hard as I can to make their team and do whatever I can to help them win.
“I’ve looked at some different teams, but right now I’m focused on school and doing what I need to take care of. I’m staying in shape and getting school taken care of and then I’ll see what God has planned for me next.”
The lockout leaves Toliver in a holding pattern, which has its pros and cons.
One on hand, he won’t be behind any of the other drafted rookies, who haven’t been able to connect with their potential future coaches and management because of the impasse.
On the other hand, by not getting exposure in mini camps and organized team activities, Toliver hasn’t had an opportunity to make an impression.
“I’m going to be in the same position as all the guys who got drafted,” Toliver said. “I’ll be there and doing what I do best in training camp – catching the ball and trying to make plays to show I’m somebody they can rely on.”
To make sure he’s as ready as he can be, Toliver has spent his extended offseason working out with a crew of former Tigers now in the NFL, including LaFell, Early Doucet and Green Bay Packers’ backup quarterback Matt Flynn.
Toliver said Flynn has been a huge asset in terms of route-running and where and how NFL receivers have to break for the ball against the best pass coverage they’ve ever seen.
“He knows all the ins and outs and different coverages,” Toliver said. “He’s really helped me a lot already because he throws a great ball and he’s always accurate and that’s helping me learn where I need to be when the ball is in the air. Right now, I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress.”
Besides the technique work, Toliver has also bulked up to 220 pounds, which equips him to go over the middle with less threat of injury.
When he’s not hitting the books for school or on the field sharpening his skills, Toliver said he’s devoured as much video as he can find of the NFL’s great receivers – especially Jerry Rice – to find things he can emulate.
All of his football focus since the draft ended and he was left at the NFL’s altar has been pointed in one direction.
“I’m going to be very ready when this lockout ends – day one I’m hitting the field ready to show what I can do,” he said. “I’m stronger, I’m more focused and I’m ready to run better routes and catch more passes.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think about the season I had and my college career and how much better it could’ve been if I would’ve done this or that. I’ve had time to mature and think about things. I know this: I’ve got a lot of fight and whatever I do from now on, the competitiveness is going to come out of me like it never has before.”
“I’m really just looking forward to the chance to compete and when that comes, I’m going to play the best football of my life.”