Tinsley was thrust into the first-team linebacker corps shortly after center Aaron Stahl delivered a concussion-inducing hit on starting middle linebacker Mark Paschal during the first week of preseason practice. He served as Durell Mapp’s backup at weakside linebacker in 2007.
With Paschal out of the mix for a week, the option for Tinsley to slowly work into his new position vanished. In most defenses, the middle linebacker calls the sets and schemes for the entire unit.
“When you’re in the middle, you’ve got to command everything – if you mess up, everybody messes up,” Tinsley said following Monday’s practice. “So it’s a big responsibility, but I’ve adapted real well and I’ve been blessed to be able to go hard in practice, have fun and make plays, so this has been my best camp.”
The Greensboro, N.C. product arrived in Chapel Hill in ’05 as a 210-pound tailback prospect, with the expectation that once he put on some additional weight, he would make the transition to fullback. But when the gains didn’t come as easily as originally thought, the now 220-pounder moved to linebacker during his red-shirt freshman season.
“It’s all about trust,” Tinsley said. “The coaches have been around the game for a long time, and you just have to trust that they can put you in the best position for you to play so that you can be helpful to the team.”
Tinsley has posted 12 tackles over the past two seasons from his reserve linebacker position, but the majority of his playing time has occurred on special teams, where the junior indicated that he has played on every particular unit at one time or another during his career.
“I think it’s important,” Tinsley said. “You’ve got to have a good special teams core and the coaches trust me with that. I’ve been doing it since I’ve been here, so I’m used to it now and I have fun doing it. It’s a sure way to know that you’re going to play in the game.”
Maturation is a natural process in the college football ranks, and now that Tinsley is one of the oldest members on the defensive side of the ball, he’s found himself in a position of direction and leadership with the bevy of true freshman linebackers on the North Carolina roster.
Zach Brown is one of those fresh faces in the two deep, holding down Tinsley’s previous spot at weakside linebacker.
“Since I know the position, I can help him,” Tinsley said. “I just pull Zach around and tell him what to do, and then call the play or make the audible checks for the rest of the defense.”
The freshmen practically outnumber the veterans – there’s Brown, Ebele Okakpu, Kenneth Harris, Dion Guy and safety-turned-linebacker Herman Davidson. One of those players has already stood out, although the red-shirt junior believes all of the young linebackers have the potential to be “really good players.”
“[Okakpu], in my opinion, might be the top linebacker out of the bunch since Kevin [Reddick’s] not here,” Tinsley said.
Despite a third position change in his four years at North Carolina, Tinsley believes he has finally found a spot on the field that will allow him to display his talents and help the Tar Heels toward their team goals.