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2011 North Texas Preview – Defense
Posted Jul 15, 2011 2011 Preview - North Texas Eagle Defense

North Texas Mean Green

Preview 2011 - Defense

- 2011 North Texas Preview | 2011 North Texas Offense
- 2011 North Texas Defense | 2011 North Texas Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: Clint Bowen might be the North Texas defensive coordinator, but head coach Dan McCarney is going to get this defense working. McCarney became a star as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator in the early 1990s and has done a whale of a job with Florida’s defensive line over the last few seasons. He has a veteran corps returning led by a secondary that dealt with a slew of injuries last year and now is loaded with options. The linebacking corps should be fine with Zach Orr ready to be a big factor in the middle and Jeremy Phillips a playmaker on the outside. The key will be to generate more of a pass rush, and both starting defensive ends are back. Overall the run defense has to be far tougher and the D has to come up with more big plays. McCarney will make sure both things happen.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jeremy Phillips, 69
Sacks: Brandon Akpunku, K.C. Obi, 4
Interceptions: Jeremy Phillips, John Shorter, 2

Star of the defense: Junior LB Jeremy Phillips
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DT Tevinn Cantly
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Zach Orr
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Brandon Akpunku (as an outside linebacker)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Phillips, 2) Orr, 3) Akpunku
Strength of the defense: Secondary Experience, Coaching Staff
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Defensive Tackles

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The defensive front gets back both starting ends but loses both tackles from a run defense that allowed 185 yards per game and a pass rush that struggled to get into the backfield. The Mean Green came up with just 19 sacks as a team and was 114th in the nation in tackles for loss, but the new coaching staff has the ability to turn the veteran ends loose.

Senior Brandon Akpunku has been one of the team’s best pass rushers over the last few years coming up with six sacks two years ago and generating four last year along with 5.5 tackles for loss with 53 tackles. At 6-1 and 240 pounds he’s built like a decent-sized linebacker, and he moves like one. He beefed up from a safety-sized defender and he has become better against the run. He’ll be backed up by 6-1, 229-pound junior Frank Gaines, who came up with 21 tackles and two tackles for loss as a part of the rotation. With a great first step he has the potential to grow into a strong pass rusher, but he has to start getting to the quarterback.

Back on the other side is junior K.C. Obi, who matched Akpunku with four sacks to go along with 3.5 tackles for loss and 36 tackles. Much bigger and much stronger at 6-2 and 240 pounds, after starting out his career at around 210, he is becoming a better all-around defender and should be even better against the run. He’s one of the team’s fastest defensive linemen, while 6-2, 232-pound sophomore Aaron Bellazin is a promising option after making eight tackles and becoming a whale of a special teamer.

Trying to become a big factor on the inside against the run, literally, 6-4, 336-pound junior Tevinn Cantly, who only saw time in three games and finished the year with a disappointing two tackles before getting hit with a knee injury. His weight ballooned up, and now he has to show he’s ready to be a force on the inside. He’ll be backed up by the quicker 6-3, 254-pound sophomore Ryan Boutwell, who’s like an end playing tackle. Extremely quick, he could be a decent interior pass rusher when he gets his chances.

6-2, 265-pound junior Brandon McCoy is a smallish lineman who can work on the end or on the inside. He got a start on the end against Louisiana and was a key part of the rotation finishing the year with 341 tackles with three sacks and four tackles for loss. He’ll see time both inside and out, while 6-4, 357-pound sophomore Richard Abbe is a massive base for the line, but he has to show he can hold up against the run on a regular basis after making just one tackle in two brief appearances in his true freshman campaign.

Watch Out For … the big beef on the inside. In a perfect world, UNT will have two massive bodies who can clog up the run on a regular basis. If Abbe and Cantly can actually play, the line will be huge and will have two anchors to work around.
Strength: The ends. The Mean Green pass rush might not be special, but Obi and Akpunku are veterans who can get to the quarterbacks. They didn’t get much help last year, but they were active and were able to generate a decent push. Now they need to do even more.
Weakness: The run defense. The overall stats might not look to bad, partly because Rice, Florida Atlantic, and Louisiana chose to bomb away with the passing game, but anyone who really tried to run the ball didn’t have much of a problem.
Outlook: The potential is there for a strong season if all the parts can stay healthy and get some good teaching from the new coaching staff. The ends will be solid and the tackles have a good combination of big bodies and active interior pass rushers. Now the group has to start getting into the backfield on a regular basis.
Unit Rating: 4.5


State of the Unit: The UNT linebackers need to be far more active and have to be far tougher against the run. Gone is Craig Robertson, a tackle-eating outside defender who led the team with 133 stops and ten tackles for loss, while A.J. Penson will also be missed after coming up with 58 tackles. There will be some shuffling, but the situation isn’t all that bad.

The corps welcomes back junior Jeremy Phillips, a 12-game starter at left outside linebacker who finished second on the team with 69 tackles with two interceptions, six defended passes, one sack, and 6.5 tackles for loss. At 6-3 and 212 pounds he’s built like a safety, but on the plus side he covers like one with good quickness and nice range. Bigger, he should hold up even better against the run. True freshman Michael Stojkovic is ready to hit the ground running as a key backup. At 6-2 and 215 pounds he’s not all that big, but he can move.

Taking over for Penson in the middle is Zach Orr, a 6-0, 240-pound veteran who started late last year when Penson was hurt and was a star reserve the rest of the way. While he might not be a returning starter, he finished third on the team with 60 tackles with a tackle for loss, and now he should be the team’s leading tackler if he can hold up on the inside. He’ll work in a rotation with 6-0, 240-pound senior Sean January, who saw time in five games but didn’t do anything. While the size is there, he doesn’t have the range and tackling ability of Orr.

6-2, 204-pound sophomore Will Wright is a defensive back who’ll be used as an outside linebacker. Used most of the time last year as a special teamer he made four tackles as a true freshman. Fast and active, the new coaching staff will try him at linebacker to turn him loose into the backfield. 6-0, 212-pound senior Forlando Johnson came in as a good JUCO transfer but made just four tackles. A top athlete who was expected to shine right away, he didn’t do much. Now he’ll be big part of a rotation with Wright.

Watch Out For … Orr. He was fantastic in the rotation last year and he was excellent when he got the starting nod. Now he’ll be the big rock in the middle where he should be a threat to come up with 300 total tackles over the next three seasons.
Strength: Quickness on the outside. Phillips and Wright can move, and Stojkovic and Johnson are like safeties playing linebacker. If the coaching staff can get the line to hold its own against the run, the outside defenders should be turned loose and finally generate more …
Weakness: Plays in the backfield. This was a big problem for the entire team over the last few years and it could be an issue now with Robertson gone. The team came up with just 49 tackles for loss, and Robertson made ten of them. The linebackers have to be more disruptive.
Outlook: There’s athleticism and there’s potential, but the steady production has to start coming on a regular basis. Orr is about to be a statistical superstar and Phillips is a good one to work around.
Unit Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: There wasn’t much help from the pass rush, but the secondary had problems on its own allowing 20 touchdown passes and coming up with just a few of the team’s pedestrian eight picks. Four starters are back in what should be one of the most experienced secondaries the team has had in years.

Senior DaWaylon Cook is a terrific run defender who now needs to get healthy and be stronger when the ball is in the air. Back after suffering a torn ACL early on, he managed to make two tackles with a broken up pass in just over a game of work, but it happened early enough to expect him to be back and ready to be a big part of the corner mix. He made 85 stops with 71 in the open field two years ago after moving from corner to free safety. Until Cook is right, 6-0, 195-pound sophomore John Shorter will be a key part of the equation after starting eight times and finishing with 29 tackles with two picks and three broken up passes. He was terrific against Middle Tennessee with two picks and he could end up working as a nickel and dime defender.

Senior Brad Graham is back at safety after starting two times and finishing with 41 tackles. While he’s great against the run and he’s a sure tackler, he doesn’t do much of anything when the ball is in the air and has to be used like an extra linebacker. He’s 6-0 and 199 pounds, but he’s a good hitter. 6-1, 195-pound senior Ryan Downing took over a starting job in the second half of last year and saw time in every game finishing with 42 tackles with a picks and a team-leading two recovered fumbles. A big hitter with nice range, the former JUCO transfer has great all-around skills and decent speed.

Back at corner is 6-1, 180-pound senior D’Leon McCord after coming in from Butler CC and starting 11 times after working as a reserve in the opener. The team’s best cover-corner, he didn’t make any picks but he made 42 tackles with three broken up passes and a tackle for loss. A good tackler and a physical defender, he’s a key piece of the defensive puzzle. Senior Steven Ford got the starting nod in the opener against Clemson, broke his leg, and was done for the season. It happened early enough to be ready for this year, but he’ll need to show that his speed and quickness are back to normal.

6-0, 181-pound senior Royce Hill was the lone ironman in the secondary starting every game and making 39 tackles with a pick and six broken up passes. Very quick, he can be used as a kick returner and has the skills to stay with most Sun Belt receivers. He needs to make more big plays and has to come up with more interceptions, but he’s a good veteran to work around. Sophomore Hilbert Jackson has 6-1, 182-pound size and the versatility to play anywhere in the secondary, and he’ll start out the year working at corner.

Watch Out For … a more settled starting foursome. Injuries changed around the Mean Green defensive backfield last year but now there are enough options and enough veterans to play around to have a steady, productive secondary.
Strength: Veterans. Because of all the injuries and because of all the problems, several defensive backs got into the mix with nine players seeing starting time. They’re all back.
Weakness: Interceptions. UNT as a team made eight picks last year and the defensive backs had four of them.
Outlook: The pass rush hasn’t been there for the last few years and the secondary has paid the price. With so much talent returning and with a coaching staff that’s bent on generating more big plays from the front seven, the results should be better.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: Sophomore Zach Olen was terrific. He took over the starting kicker job and nailed 13-of-15 kicks including a 53-yard bomb against Middle Tennessee. After nailing six straight field goals to close out the year, and after connecting on eight of his final nine field goals, he appears to be ready for a national spotlight and All-America consideration.

The punting game wasn’t all that great when it came to net yards, but junior Will Atterberry has been outstanding over the last two seasons putting 22 kicks inside the 20 in 2009 and averaging 41.8 yards per kick and putting 11 inside the 20 last year. After showing more blast on his kicks, he proved he can be used even more to bail the team out of jams.

Four teams in America were worse than UNT on punt returns. The Mean Green averaged an awful 3.3 yards per try on just 13 attempts, with WR Darius Carey averaging 5.2 yards per try and Brelan Chancellor averaging just two yards per try. They’ll get another chance to improve, but on the plus side, Chancellor is a special kickoff returner averaging 28 yards per try with two touchdowns, while Carey will get a longer look as the main option.

Watch Out For … Olen to get more chances to bomb away from deep. He has 50+ range and will get the chance to show it for a team that needs to manufacture ways to generate points.
Strength: Kickoff returns. The Mean Green averaged 24.3 yards per try finishing 20th in the nation and second in the Sun Belt. The offense will take the field position.
Weakness: Coverage teams. There are other problems with the special teams, but the coverage teams are a particular problem allowing nine yards per punt return and 22.3 yards per kickoff return.
Outlook: The special teams should be far better with a strong kicking game, two veteran returners, and enough athletes to be far better in kick coverage. The potential is there for UNT to have the Sun Belt’s top special teams if there’s more consistency.
Unit Rating: 6.5
- 2011 North Texas Preview | 2011 North Texas Offense
- 2011 North Texas Defense | 2011 North Texas Depth Chart