James Kinney doesn’t say much. He won’t be found jawing with opponents after a big hit and he won’t get any unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
At the end of the day, Kinney has no problem letting his statistics do the talking for him.
Kinney, a 6-foot-1, 233-pound junior linebacker, and tag-team partner Brandon Barnes have become two of the few constants on the Missouri defense. Kinney is the Tigers’ defensive captain, but he prefers to lead with his play and not with his mouth. He said he relishes the role as the Tigers’ “silent assassin.”
“I want to make plays all over the field and lead that defense any way I can,” Kinney said. “I just go out there and do my job and I hope everything will take care of itself around me, but I can’t be afraid to open my mouth sometimes.”
After redshirting in 2000, Kinney made an impact in the final two games in 2001. Kinney made 10 tackles and had a sack in his first start against Baylor and he was there to stay.
Two years later, Kinney has 175 tackles, including 148 last year, and could have a chance to break Demontie Cross’ school record of 415.
Outside safety Dedrick Harrington said he looks to Kinney and Barnes to provide leadership and make big plays for the young Missouri defense.
“I look at those guys and think about what kind of leaders they are,” Harrington said. “They have been around here for awhile and I just kind of follow them and allow them to show me the right way to do things.”
While Kinney became an instant leader for the defense, Barnes has followed a different path to give the Tigers the combination of hard-hitting linebackers that coach Gary Pinkel craves.
Barnes came to Missouri in 1999 as a wide receiver. After spending the 2000 and 2001 seasons at receiver, Barnes made the move to defense, but not at linebacker. Barnes switched to free safety where he was named the team’s most improved defensive back in spring 2002. He finished last season with 54 tackles and an interception in 12 games.
Barnes appeared to be entrenched at free safety, but he moved again this spring to linebacker when the Tigers signed Nino Williams II and moved David Overstreet to free safety. Barnes again won most improved honors, this time at his new position.
“We feel really good about Brandon,” Pinkel said. “He’s probably at the position we would have liked to put him a year ago, when we moved him from wide receiver to defense, but our depth was such that we couldn’t do it. We just couldn’t. I feel a little bit bad for him just because it would have been nicer for us, for everybody and for himself if we had done it a year ago.”
Missouri’s linebacker depth isn’t limited to Barnes and Kinney. Pinkel’s efforts to add speed to his defense started with the linebackers.
The improved linebacking unit made its presence felt in the win against Illinois. The linebackers’ production wasn’t limited to Kinney and Barnes’ combined 26 tackles.
Derrick Ming made a big play in the first quarter, tackling punter Matt Minnes on the Illini 4 to set up the Tigers’ first touchdown. Junior Henry Sweat added a pair of tackles and a sack.
Pinkel said the linebackers have become a strength of his team, and he uses Kinney and Barnes as the model for what he wants in a linebacker.
We are starting to get the kind of guys who, speed-wise, are what you need in this league.”