The defensive end, projected to see meaningful snaps behind Will Clarke — if not start at the opposite end position – has morphed from a 6-2, 240-pound outside linebacker recruit in 2012 to a 265-pound lineman capable of sliding into other trench slots in different packages.
“Coming in last year, as a freshman, it was different,” Kinsey said of his expectations. “It changes now once you have that year under your belt. It’s a different mentality, different me. I gained 20 pounds between my freshman and sophomore year. I feel like the weight I put on was good weight. I run different that I did before I got here. Compared to last year – my body used to be beat up a lot – now it’s a normal day at the park. I feel like I can take it.”
Defensive line coach Erik Slaughter acknowledged that the Miami native still, at times, shows some body weariness and fatigue. But his ability and attention to detail have been solid, so much so that Kinsey ran with the first team for the final days of camp, mixing in with incumbent Kyle Rose and junior college transfer Dontrill Hyman. No depth chart has been released, however, and it’s likely that if head coach Dana Holgorsen doesn’t announce one during his press conference Tuesday that the wait to see if, indeed, Kinsey is a starter will have to wait until game day.
“(Kinsey) has the ability to do all of it pretty well,” Slaughter said. “He's an explosive guy. He is very talented, he's heavy, he's strong and he's powerful. He's got all of it. There really is nothing he can't do. It's just learning now when to do it right and at a high tempo. But he's getting there. … We want to make sure we narrow his responsibilities and let him play fast. He's definitely athletic, he's explosive and he can change a game. My job is not to slow that down. I don't want to hamper his ability to play with those strengths by loading him up too much. I don’t want to do that.”
Evan sans a start, Kinsey gives Slaughter much-needed quality depth, something badly lacking last season. But last year’s issues have bared this season’s potential, as Kinsey already has a full 13 games of experience, often playing nose tackle in passing situations and finishing with four tackles and two pass break-ups. Slaughter said Kinsey, Rose and redshirt freshman Noble Nwachukwu could all slide into different spots in nickel and dime sets, when starting nose tackle Shaq Rowell, a 6-4, 305-pound run-stopper, comes off the field.
“Eric Kinsey is probably the hardest working defensive end,” Rowell said. “He started working as the third defensive end. Coach Slaughter believes in competition, and Eric told me before camp, I’m not going to stay on the third team. He showed me he really wants to play. He deserves to be a starter right now. He understands the grind of camp and the grind of the season. He looks to me and Will. I can get on Eric differently than I get on other people. I can scream and cuss and he will take it just fine. That’s why I like him. I really enjoy playing with this kid. … 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.”
While that’s a bit of an exaggeration, Kinsey is aware that he will be challenged by opposing teams until he has proven himself capable in every-down situations. There’s little question Kinsey can adequately rush the passer. But how does the stand up to the continual pounding, even in a league as pass-oriented as the Big 12?
“They tell me teams will run at me, being a young guy,” said Kinsey, before delivering a lighter comment. “(But) it’s three versus five – we got’em right where we want ‘em. It’s our mentality. We feel like we have to go out there and get it, like we have something to prove. The pass rush, it has been a huge focus. We want to change the line of scrimmage and get to the quarterback. We have to affect more passes and take pressure off our DBs. It’s about how you attack when the ball is snapped. You attack fast and it’s easier to get of the blocks. You come off slow, and it’s harder to get pressure. Now, it’s attacking. Last year, we played blocks. Now, we attack and change the line of scrimmage and react to everything that happens after that.”
West Virginia finished with just 23 sacks in 2012 while allowing defensive school records in passing yards (4,063), touchdown passes (38) and total offense (6,142), as well as 495 points – also a school-worst for an average of 38.1 per game. There have been arguments that the cause was scheme, talent and coaching. And while all probably have an element of truth, the best explanation is youth. WVU was among the youngest defenses in the nation last season, and that youth – one of which was Kinsey – was asked to execute an entirely new system in among the top offensive conferences in the nation. It would seem, for both Kinsey and the 3-4 as a whole, the future is brighter than the past.
“I think he is coming out of his shell as far as having confidence and being in a role now,” Slaughter said. “No doubt, he is growing up. It was a tough transition (last year) having guys like Eric play. I’m sure he fought with the whole homesick deal and being here and playing. It was probably tough on him. We are better than we were last year, no question. But we aren’t in it to be just a bit better. We want now to be the best in the Big 12. Last year, everybody thought we were a weakness on our team and we wanted to be a strength. We did that. Now, our goal is to be to lead the team and be the best defensive line in the Big 12.”