'I'm my biggest critic': UM defensive tackle Chris Hinton finds increasing role as confidence grows

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Perhaps Michigan defensive tackle Chris Hinton’s first collegiate start against Alabama in the bowl game was an indication of what was to come this season.

Hinton, a five-star recruit from Georgia, started in Michigan’s win at Minnesota last Saturday and appears to have locked down the position. Michigan plays its home opener against Michigan State on Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

Chris Hinton

“Confidence is one of the largest things I’ve seen myself grow from last year to this year,” Hinton said this week. “With playing a couple games last year, a couple big games, I felt my confidence on a different level this year. Just confident in my ability, confident in my preparation, and it’s just helped me play more loose and more freely as I did on Saturday.

“I’m my biggest critic, so I never feel like I play well. There’s always room from improvement. It’s a great starting block, and I’m ready to build on it.”

Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown, in a recent radio appearance, said Hinton’s game had progressed and hinted he would be a major player on the defensive line this fall.

“He’s improved his short-area quickness, his change of direction, tremendously,” Brown said of the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Hinton. “We’re starting to see those benefits.”

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Hinton has worked to improve every phase of his game. He reached out to teammate Aidan Hutchinson, a junior defensive end, before the season and asked him what helped make such a successful transition from his freshman to sophomore season.

“Because I felt we were in similar positions,” Hinton said. “He’s been a big brother to me, really helping out, giving me tips here and there. “The most important thing (he’s told me), it’s a different mindset going in from your freshman to sophomore year. Having some experience from freshman year, taking that experience and running with it and just taking your game to a next level, that’s what he told me. That’s what really stuck with me, just changing your mindset from freshman year to sophomore year.”

He also picks the brain of his father, Chris, an All-American offensive lineman at Northwestern and a seven-time NFL Pro Bowler. Hinton said his father never has pressured him about football despite his professional success and encouraged him to pursue whatever he chose.

Because Hinton wants to find an edge, he asks his father for football advice despite the fact they played on opposite lines.

“I go to him a lot,” Hinton said. “He played a different position, but it’s very helpful, because he played offensive line, so he’s able to tell me things offensive linemen don’t like, and I’m able to use that for my advantage to see it from an offensive lineman’s perspective. I see that as very helpful for my career.”

His parents, Chris and Mya, were vocal earlier this summer regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, making clear the importance of NCAA oversight handling this health crisis. Hinton said his parents, who both played sports in college, wanted to make certain college athletes were treated fairly and not made subjected to potentially unsafe circumstances.

Hinton never intended opting out of this season, though.

“I’m not the type of guy that I can see my teammates putting in work and going hard every day and me just sitting on the sideline watching,” Hinton said. “That’s not in my DNA, not in my blood. It was never a concern of mine. I was never considering (opting out), no.”

Now he wants to build on that starting block from last week, as he said. The Wolverines enter this rivalry game as large favorites, but as will be the case in all Big Ten games, there will be no fans, no raucous atmosphere at Michigan Stadium.

“We’re going to keep that intensity up because it’s Michigan State,” Hinton said. “Fans or no fans, we want to win every game, but it’s a huge game, it’s a rivalry game, so fans would not affect our determination, our drive to win this game. We’re a very competitive group of guys. We want to win every game, and this is a big one, fans or no fans.

“No fans, but it’s still going to feel like a home game. It’s still going to be electric first time back in it since last year. Just excited to get back and compete in the Big House.”