Safety Tyree Kinnel returns to Michigan as one of a select few players that saw significant playing time last season.
As one of the experienced players, Kinnel must help lead the resurgence of a U-M defense that needs to retool and replace quite a bit from a season ago. For the young safety, that transition from depth player to an all-but-official penciled in starter, like others have credited in the past, was eased thanks to the senior leadership the Wolverines had on defense last season.
"I just took it in, learning from the guys that went before me," Kinnel said. "Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas, they taught me how to be a leader, what to do in the film room, on the field and I just looked at them and played with them the last two years and it was a great experience. Now, I feel like I'm more comfortable out here playing with the younger guys."
It's no secret that the Wolverines have some work to do in order to repeat as, statistically, one of the best defenses in the nation. U-M has the talent, it just hasn't been tested yet in a critical situation. That will come in time. According to Kinnel, defensive coordinator Don Brown has faith in his returning players to continue the aggressive style of play he covets.
In fact, year two under the system happens to make things a little easier.
"Coach Brown said it right after last year, he said you know what's going to make us so good next year, it's not because we're losing everyone, it's because we're going to be our second year in the system," Kinnel said. "I believe him because now we're moving around faster. The first few practices of the spring last year we were moving around slow cause we were still learning the playbook trying to figure out where everyone is at. The first three spring practices this year we were moving fast, playing together and it was great cause we knew the playbook."
With two years of experience under his belt, other players will rely upon Kinnel's experience and expect him to lead them. Thanks to Dymonte Thomas, Delano Hill and those who came before him, he has a solid blueprint to follow with the foundation already set.
He is applying what he learned to become a leader himself, guiding the young cornerbacks and helping them adjust to a new defensive system.
"They feel more comfortable when the safeties are talking to them," Kinnel said." If you don't talk to them they feel like they're out there on the island by themselves so we talk to them a lot and line them up and they feel more comfortable and know what they have to do to get the job done. They help us as well. They talk back to us and let us know what they're doing and what we have so it's all a communication game and we feel comfortable when we line up."