"It's going to be hard to replace Whit. He is a phenomenal player. I've learned everything from him for the last couple years now. But yeah, I'm that guy. At least I'm trying to be that guy to replace him."
Kynard was demonstrating quickness and aggressiveness early last fall, but Mercilus began playing great. Motivation was hard to maintain when fewer opportunities for playing time presented themselves.
"In the nonconference games, I was getting a lot more reps. But when the Big Ten came along, Whit started to pick up his game a little bit. I kind of think that had something to do with it. But I did see some time in the Big Ten games.
"I thought I was going to be giving him a breather a lot more because of how powerful the competition is. But Whit was in phenomenal shape; the guy doesn't get tired. It was hard trying to compete with him knowing he goes 100% every play."
Ironically, it may have been an index finger smashed in a weight lifting accident that spurred Mercilus to work extra hard before the 2011 season. Realizing the value of the hard work may help motivate Kynard as well.
"That was a tragic accident. I was sitting there with him. He worked even harder after that. That's what I want to do."
Kynard was forced to wear a green shirt the first three days of practice, limiting his field activity.
"In the competition workouts, I kind of pulled my hamstring. The green shirt was just precautionary."
The temporary delay didn't prove discouraging.
"I feel real confident, but at the same time it's still open competition. I'm not trying to be cocky and say I'm the guy. Anybody can get that position. But this off season was probably the hardest I've ever worked. I've got a real good shot to be the starter this year."
The transition to a new coaching staff was made easier when defensive line coach Keith Gilmore was retained by new coach Tim Beckman.
"I was real glad to see that. Having a coach that I've been with my entire career at Illinois, that's pretty good. Since it didn't change, we can relate to him more easily. We didn't have to get adjusted to a new coach and a new system. It's the same system we ran before, so we're familiar with it."
Adjustments will be required for new defensive coordinator Tim Banks, but Kynard likes what he sees so far.
"Coach Banks is going to be running the defense. I think he's a pretty good coach. I would say he's laid back but strict. He demands our focus and all-out effort."
The Illini defense returns plenty of experience from an outstanding unit in 2011.
"I think our defense will be will good this year. Speaking just of the d-line, we have Glenn Foster, Akeem Spence and Mike Buchanan coming back as returning starters. Then our backfield is really good."
Kynard played his high school ball at Toledo St. Johns, so he is familiar with Beckman.
"Coach Beckman's first year at Toledo was my senior year in high school. So he recruited me and offered me. We've got a good history.
"Coach (Ron) Zook did a great job, but this is a new era. I believe in Coach Beckman. He's set in his ways already. He wants us 10 minutes early for everything and all-out effort. So I have a lot of respect for the guy."
Kynard hopes he can begin a pipeline to his school for future prospects.
"Yeah, I think that's going to be a great key, having some Toledo guys on the Illinois team and Coach Beckman coming from Toledo. I think we have a great shot to get some of the Toledo players here."