Kinder is Almost Ready

Last season, his hopes died early. Coming off a stellar junior campaign in which he earned first-team All-Big East honors, he tore his ACL during the start of last year's training camp. Taking the year off was hard. But with surgery and months of rehab behind him, Pitt receiver Derek Kinder is finally starting to play some football.

Derek Kinder, who led the Pittsburgh Panthers in 2006 with 57 receptions and 847 yards, has been doing light running and drills since spring practice began. He tore his ACL in his right knee last year while making a cut after a catch in training camp, forcing him to take a redshirt. But Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, Kinder ran routes at full speed, taking another step towards a complete recovery.

"I think it's doing really well," Kinder said of his knee. "Tuesday's practice my knee probably felt the best it's ever felt. It felt really good. I was running full speed, cutting off of it very well and doing most of the things I was doing before the injury."

Those things Kinder was doing before the injury proved to be as helpful to the Panthers as anything. He started all 12 games, averaged 14.9 yards per reception and scoring six touchdowns. But aside from making a difference at receiver, he made his presence felt all over the field – especially on special teams.

Two years ago during Pitt's game against West Virginia, Kinder made the block on two WVU players that sprung Darrelle Revis up the sideline, eventually leading to Revis' 73-yard punt return which was selected by ESPN as the "College Football Play of the Year."

Plays like that make Kinder an integral part of the team.

Since his freshman year, Kinder has been a fixture on special teams and was also one of the best blocking receivers in the league.

Bryan Bossard, who coached wide receivers at Maryland before coming to Pitt in the off-season, said he's expecting Kinder to be the same type of player he was before the injury. And he expects it to come sooner than later.

"We're counting on him," Bossard said. "[But] it takes time and he needs to get confidence in his knee."

Getting that confidence back, Kinder said, it's half the struggle of recovery. Kinder said he wants to do as much running and cutting this spring so when summer camp comes, he's ready to go. Still, he has to be careful and has to be certain his knee is ready to take a pounding.

Kinder has been running, catching balls and practicing with all the other receivers. But he's avoiding the contact drills and is making sure he stays comfortable. If all goes as planned, he'll be back to normal before training camp starts.

"I'm going to do as much as I can in spring ball, probably without getting hit," Kinder said. "It's still in the grace period where I want to try to gain my confidence now so when the summer comes I'm ready to come and I don't even think about it. I still want to plant off of it enough so that I feel I'll be alright for the summer."

With Kinder out, the Pitt receivers had to step into a bigger role last year. To-be-junior Oderick Turner slid into the No. 1- slot and led the Panthers in receiving yards and touchdowns.

T.J. Porter and Cedric McGee also stepped into larger roles – especially this spring.

"Our receiving core is very deep," Kinder said. "We've got a lot of play-makers in T.J. and Oderick and Ced. They're all making plays in the spring and, with [LeSean McCoy] back there it's definitely going to help the passing game a lot. We're expecting teams to load up the box and that will help us out."

Kinder added that along with his return to the unit, Pitt recruit Jonathan Baldwin could bring in some potential with the deep-ball.

"Physically, he's a definitely a freak of nature," Kinder said of Baldwin. "He's tall, he's fast, and he's the prototypical big-play receiver."

Bossard agreed with Kinder about Baldwin, but said he's focused on the spring right now – meaning he's ready to see Kinder back to full-strength.

"He's making cuts and it feels good," Bossard said. "Once the knee is structurally sound, it's a lot about getting that confidence back. By the time August hits, he needs to have all the rust off and say ‘let's go.'"

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