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Illini defensive end Tim Kynard pushed into leader role

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Updated: September 21, 2013 6:22AM

Illinois defensive end Tim Kynard is trying to live up to a word that gets thrown around rather cheaply in sports: leader.

Maybe it’s a Tim thing, but coach Tim Beckman and defensive coordinator Tim Banks have pointed to Kynard, a fifth-year senior from Toledo, as the leader of a severely inexperienced defensive line.

Beckman brought Kynard to Big Ten media days in Chicago, where he was one of the least recognizable of the 36 players — three per school — in attendance. Kynard’s résumé includes seven career starts, two sacks and two fumble recoveries, among other easy-to-miss stats.

“He stepped in and took over the leadership role starting in December,” Beckman said then.

That’s not exactly how Kynard remembers it.

“I was kind of pushed into that spot because I’m the older guy on the D-line,” the 23-year-old said two weeks into his final training camp in Champaign.

“Being a leader, it’s tough because I know I still have a lot to prove myself as a player. But I’ve got the most experience. Somebody’s got to anchor the D-line.”

One of the challenges for Kynard has been seeing himself as the man for that job.

He has toiled in the shadows of first-round NFL draft picks Corey Liuget and Whitney Mercilus. Last season, he lined up next to Akeem Spence, who started every game of his Illini career. The 2012 defense wasn’t very effective, but four linemen from that team — Spence, Michael Buchanan, Justin Staples and Glenn Foster — are working hard for their money in NFL training camps.

Kynard certainly wasn’t expected to lead those guys, but he’s still in orange and blue.

“He understands that he’s a lone wolf out there,” Banks said. “He’s been around a bit, been in some battles. He has taken it to heart to try to lead those young guys.”

Kynard has had a strong camp and, according to Beckman, has an NFL opportunity within his reach. For now, though, he simply wants to earn everything he gets — including the L-word.

“Do I see myself as a leader? Yes. I accept that challenge,” he said. “But I don’t expect all these young guys to just look up to me and follow my example. I’ve got to perform. If I don’t, it doesn’t matter what anybody calls me.”


Twitter: @SLGreenberg

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