West Virginia’s defensive coaches were looking for a boost in athleticism along the defensive line this year and they may have found it in sophomore Eric Kinsey
The Miami resident did play in all 13 games last year as a true freshman, primarily in pass rushing situations, but it was probably more out of necessity than by design.
Depth issues forced the Mountaineers to go with basically two noses in Shaq Rowell
and Jorge Wright up front last year and that sometimes made things difficult when West Virginia played passing teams – which was just about every week in the Big 12.
“You’ve got two nose guards on the field and they’re both 300-pound guys and we played them in a passing league,” explained defensive line coach Erick Slaughter. “If people were running the ball it was good, but the majority of the people in this league spread you out and throw it.”
When Kinsey did get into the game it was usually in third down situations when he was lined up at nose.
“He did that last year at 250 pounds and did really well at it,” noted Slaughter.
Today, Kinsey is playing primarily outside at defensive end and has now moved to the top of the depth chart working with the ones for the last couple of weeks. Starting nose tackle Shaq Rowell
said he began noticing a different, more determined Eric Kinsey
earlier this summer.
“He started camp as the third defensive end and Coach Slaughter is one of those coaches in the country who really believes in competition and Eric told me before camp, ‘Man, I’m not going to stay on the third team.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, yeah whatever.’ But Eric showed me that he really wants to play,” said Rowell.
“Last year coming in as a freshman your mentality just changes once you get that year under your belt,” Kinsey said. “I feel like I can play with anybody now, and that’s just what I go out there and show that I can play with anybody.”
Rowell is not the only one noticing Kinsey’s improved play. The guys who determine playing time have noticed as well.
“He’s got a great personality and I just think he’s coming out of his shell a little bit with confidence and is starting to believe in himself and believe in his abilities,” said Slaughter. “He’s getting comfortable being here and so what you are seeing is a guy with a lot of talent and now is growing up and having confidence in that talent.”
“He’s got a comfort level to what he’s doing and knows what we’re expecting from him and he’s just playing with passion and effort and that will go a long way,” added defensive coordinator Keith Patterson.
Kinsey is not very tall for a defensive end at 6-feet-2 inches, but he has put on 20 additional pounds to become a much more solid 265 pounds. Despite still being a bit undersized, Rowell noted that Kinsey is able to handle the run about as well as anyone on the team.
“He’s one of the smaller defensive ends we’ve got but as far as playing the run he’s one of the best. He can come up field and he can play the block just like he’s my size,” said the 300-pound Rowell.
Yet getting to the quarterback is where the coaches see the most value in having Kinsey out on the field. Last year, West Virginia really struggled getting to the passer, accumulating just 23 sacks in 13 games - a number the Mountaineers must improve upon if they want to have a better defense in 2013.
“He’s very quick,” said Slaughter. “We’d like him heavier but he’ll get there. He’s explosive. He’s an athlete, especially in passing situations. Inside he’s a mismatch against some bigger guys.”
For his part, Kinsey believes he’s a guy who can bring more versatility to West Virginia’s front three.
“It’s all about how you attack when the ball is snapped,” he explained. “If you attack it will be easier to get off the block. If you come off slow then it’s going to be harder for you to get pressure, so I try to come off the ball and play every play like it’s my last play.”
Senior offensive tackle Curtis Feigt
blocks Kinsey every day in practice and he believes the sophomore is progressing nicely.
“He’s coming off the ball a lot faster,” Feigt said. “He’s running to the ball, playing hard and using his hands well. Overall as a player he’s advanced.”
“We want to attack and change the line of scrimmage and get to the quarterback,” Kinsey noted. “We’ve got to affect more passes and take more pressure off our DBs.”
By no means does Kinsey have the No. 1 job locked up. Sophomore Kyle Rose
and junior college transfer Dontrill Hyman
are right there getting No. 1 reps as well.
“Me, Kyle and Dontrill all work with the ones,” said Kinsey. “We are still fighting for our spots out there so there is no guarantee who will be out there week one.”
These days you are seeing more prominent edge guys in the game today in that 6-foot, 6-foot-1 range – players such as former Louisville standout Elvis Dumervil and ex-Syracuse star Keith Freeney who are squatty, powerful and very quick getting off the ball. Patterson has said in the past that he prefers bigger, lankier guys with big wingspans up front coming off the edge because they can make passing angles more difficult, but he does admit his defense also has room for the smaller edge players, too.
“He is taller than Dumervil but it’s the same concept,” said Patterson. “When guys are explosive and strong it makes up for a lot. If you will just play with pad level and leverage … and again, it’s not like you are playing a bunch of teams with their hands in the grass and they’re coming off the ball with their rear end up in the air and they’re trying to knock you off the ball …
“When you’ve got a guy built like he is but on the same hand plays like a 275-pounder and has the athleticism of a linebacker, when we get into our substitution packages, now he can do a lot of things for us,” Patterson added.
As for Kinsey performing the way Dumervil and Freeney did in college, well …
“Boy I sure hope he does,” laughed Slaughter. “But I like athletes. I’d rather take a guy like Eric who is athletic and teach him how to strike and get off a block than teach a guy that can strike and get off a block and teach him how to be athletic. I’m not real good at that. I’d rather teach technique to a guy like that.”
“We keep a chart during practice and I think (Kinsey is) second on the team in sacks behind (linebacker Brandon) Golson,” Rowell mentioned. “He can get to the passer and stop the run. I’m really looking forward to seeing Eric this year.”
So am I.