Devin Kirkwood feels freer.

In first-year defensive coordinator Bill McGovern’s school of defense, the UCLA cornerback says he has more liberty to play his game. According to The L.A. Times’ Ben Bolch, McGovern has allowed Kirkwood to be himself on the football field, trash-talking and all.

“He’s just helped me express my game in ways I wasn’t able to do last year,” Kirkwood said, via Bolch. “So now, when I demonstrate it, it just looks like poetry.”

The 6-foot-3 defensive back appeared in all 12 games as a reserve corner and on special teams last season for the Bruins. He’s expected to be a starter for the defense this year, just his second with the program. He’s competing for snaps with Wyoming transfer Azizi Hearn, Oregon transfer Jaylin Davies, and third-year corner John Humphrey.

Throughout camp, being able to harness that competitive fire has certainly helped Kirkwood.

“So, when I trash talk, it doesn’t really mean nothing, but it gives me energy. I feed off of trash talking,” he said, via All Bruins’ Sam Connon. “Like, when people talk trash to me, it just amplifies my game even more cause it feels like now I want to prove something to you, I gotta show you how I really am. So, in practice, when we be trash-talking, I’ll be like, ‘OK, now I’m really about to show you who I am and just keep going out there and locking you up.’ That’s an everyday thing.”

It seems that, even in a short amount of time, McGovern has developed a rapport with the secondary — Kirkwood specifically.

“He just lets me be me,” Kirkwood said, per Connon. “He lets me go out there and trash talk, he lets me go out there and compete to my full ability, like play man, press, off man, whenever I step out there, he’s banking on me, he put his money down on me. … I look up to him a lot.”

Kirkwood and the Bruins open the new season on Sept. 3 at home against Bowling Green.