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2009 North Texas Preview - Defense
North Texas LB Tobe Nwigwe
North Texas LB Tobe Nwigwe
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 11, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - North Texas Eagle Defense

North Texas Mean Green

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN North Texas Preview | 2009 North Texas Offense
- 2009 North Texas Defense | 2009 North Texas Depth Chart
- 2008 UNT Preview |
2007 UNT Preview | 2006 UNT Preview

What you need to know:
A nightmare over the past few seasons, the defense is at least loaded with experience. It all starts with a need for a pass rush after finishing 112th in the nation in sacks, coming up with just 11, while finishing 111th in tackles for loss. Eddrick Gilmore has to shine at one end, while Brandon Akpunku has to add a spark on the other side. The linebacking corps has the potential to be terrific with Tobe Nwigwe and Craig Robertson leading a deep, productive group. Four of the top five tacklers from last year will be at linebacker. The secondary is young, but promising with good prospects at each spot. Now there needs to be more production.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Tobe Nwigwe, 111
Sacks: Eddrick Gilmore, 3
Interceptions: Tobe Nwigwe, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Tobe Nwigwe
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DE Brandon Akpunku
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Royce Hill
Best pro prospect: Nwigwe
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Nwigwe, 2) LB Craig Robertson, 3) LB Kylie Hill
Strength of the defense: Experience, Linebacker
Weakness of the defense: Production, Pass Rush

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The Mean Green need a pass rusher ... and badly. That means the spotlight will be on Eddrick Gilmore, a 6-5, 240-pound senior who missed all of 2006 with academic issues, left the team for a while last year for personal reasons, and returned to end up make 26 tackles with three tackles with six broken up passes in nine games. The team's sack-leader has to do far more and he has to be a steadier factor with 6-5, 240-pound size, a good burst, and the potential to be the leader of the line if the team can count on him for the entire year.

Looking to take over the starting spot on the other side is 6-1, 206-pound sophomore Brandon Akpunku. The former linebacker isn't big, built more like a safety than a defensive lineman, but he's extremely strong for his size and he'll add a blast of quickness into the backfield. He made five tackles as a reserve.

6-4, 286-pound senior Draylen Ross started the final three games of the year and ended up making 22 tackles with a sack. The former tight end started out his career on the offensive size, making one catch and being used mostly as a blocker, and was originally considered an end when he moved over. Now he needs to be a rock in the middle for a full season.

Junior Jessie DeSoto spent last year as a key backup in the interior making 12 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. A quick 6-1 and 286 pounds, he'll be more than just a key part of the rotation; he'll be looked to as a key anchor on the inside for a run defense that needs more playmakers. He'll have to fight for the starting job, and if nothing else, he'll be the top backup for both inside spots.
 

Projected Top Reserves: Is Tevinn Cantly ready? The 6-4, 310-pound redshirt freshman was a possible offensive tackle and a possible defensive lineman when he first arrived, and now the coaching staff knows what he is ... a very big end. He'll see time on the inside, but he's such a good pass rusher for his size that he'll see time in a rotation on the outside, too. He was one of the stars of spring ball and should be the X factor for the defensive front.

Undersized but feisty, 6-2, 249-pound senior Jonathan Stewart will move around where needed. He's tough enough to handle himself well on the inside, but he'll get beaten on and he'll wear down if he' playing for a long period of time. He made 14 tackles in a limited role, and this year he'll start out behind DeSoto.

On the way to be a big part of the interior will be Shavod Atkinson, a 6-2, 298-pound JUCO transfer who made 48 tackles for Independence CC. He's not going to be an interior pass rusher, but he's bulky and a ready-made run stopper.

John Weber might be the answer for the woeful pass rush. Coming in from Itawamba Junior College in Mississippi, he's extremely quick off the ball and is a pure pass rusher who made 8.5 sacks last year. The 6-3, 265-pound junior brings good size along with his good speed.

Watch Out For ... Cantly. He's a very, very raw work in progress, but he's also extremely big and stunningly unblockable at times. If and when the light goes on, he's the star of the show up front.
Strength: Decent size. Outside of Akpunku, who's stronger than most of the big bodies up front, the Mean Green brings the bulk. There isn't any monster space eater other than Cantly, but there's good bulk inside and out.
Weakness
:
Production. The line wasn't as abysmal as it was two years ago, but there were only 53 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, and little production against the run. The talent level just isn't there.
Outlook: UNT had the nation's worst D line two years ago and was merely bad last season. This year's line has an interesting mix of talents with Eddrick Gilmore needing to produce early on and Draylen Ross to become an anchor on the inside. Finding something the front four can do well is a must for any sort of improvement as a team.
Rating: 4.5

Linebackers


Projected Starters: For all the problems on the UNT defense last year, there wasn't an issue when it came to production from Tobe Nwigwe. The 6-1, 251-pound senior came off a nice 66-stop 2007 season to lead the team with 111 tackles with three interceptions and three tackles for loss. He has excellent speed to go along with all of his size, but more importantly, he has matured into a leader after having problems earlier in his career. From his spot in the middle, he'll be the team's main man that everything will be funneled to.

The team's No. 2 tackler, Craig Robertson, is back at the left outside spot. The 6-0, 226-pound junior made 93 tackles with 6.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, and three broken up passes. One of the team's biggest hitters with good range, he's a phenomenal athlete who put it all together with a good season in pass coverage and a nice year getting into the backfield. He'll be used far more as a pass rusher.

One of the interesting moves of the offseason was taking Kylie Hill, a 5-10, 186-pound safety, and moving him to outside linebacker. A former JUCO transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, he has been a good tackler who plays bigger than his size finishing third on the team with 77 stops. While he's a great tackler and a nice athlete, especially at linebacker, he'll now be asked to do a variety of different things now that he's closer to the line.

Projected Top Reserves: Somewhere, somehow, A.J. Penson will be playing in the lineup. the 6-1, 213-pound junior started every game on the outside and finished fifth on the team with 51 tackles and two tackles for loss. He'll play in a rotation in the middle, where he was originally projected to play when he came to the program, but he was needed on the outside last year. He simply didn't make enough big plays.

6-1, 227-pound senior Steve Warren has been a key special teamer so far and a decent reserve linebacker making 27 tackles with four tackles for loss. He started out his career as one of the team's better backup safety options, making 46 tackles as a true freshman, but injuries have been a problem and he's had a hard time finding regular work on defense despite his speed and experience.

Jeremy Phillips was one of the stars of spring ball after moving over from safety. The 6-3, 196-pound redshirt freshman was a high school quarterback who was being groomed for a defensive back spot last season. Now his job is to hit the weights, and hard, to bulk up enough to handle a regular workload on the outside.

Watch Out For ... Phillips. If he turns out to be the real deal at one of the outside spots, that would allow the coaching staff to experiment with putting Hill back in the secondary or even at the other outside job. Phillips should be an all-around playmaker.
Strength: Experience. With Hill moving to linebacker, the team's top three tacklers of last year, and four of the top five, are in the linebacking corps. This group will be relied on to do a little of everything to make up for problems elsewhere.
Weakness
:
Meaningful stats. Yes, the tackle numbers are impressive, but the linebackers have to make a bigger impact. too many plays are made down the field and too many offenses were able to run without a problem.
Outlook: After a wildly disappointing season in 2007, the linebacking corps came back with a nice season and now it should be fantastic with experience, depth, and athleticism. there will be a whole bunch of big hits, with Tobe Nwigwe leading  leading the veteran unit, but there need to be more big plays and more toughness against the run.
Rating: 5.5

Secondary

Projected Starters: The secondary has had major problems over the last few years, and was among the worst in the nation against the pass last season, but there's hope with the return of Royce Hill, a 5-10, 173-pound sophomore who got better and better as the season went on. After getting lit up like a Christmas tree early on, he finished with 34 tackles and two broken up passes. Now he has to do more to come up with big plays against the pass to use his good speed and quickness to be more consistent at one corner spot.

On the other side, at least early on, will be Adryan Adams, a starter over the second half of the season at corner with shuffling going on at the other position. The 6-0, 178-pound senior made an interception and three broken up passes, to go along with 25 tackles, in eight games of work.
Considered one of the top JUCO defensive backs in the country by most of the top services going into last season, he has size, speed, tackling ability, and now the experience, to do even more.

With Kylie Hill moving over to linebacker, there's an opening at safety that DaWaylon Cook will try to fill. At 6-0 and 193 pounds, the sophomore is a big defender who'll move over form corner to free safety after making 10 tackles as a reserve. Fast and with tremendous range, he'll be all over the field and should be a statistical monster.

Sophomore Darien Williams will end up starting at one safety spot. the 5-10, 185-pounder started in 11 games and finished fourth on the team with 61 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss and five broken up passes. He's a huge hitter for his size with decent range. If nothing else he'll play a key nickel and dime role if he's not a starter.


Projected Top Reserves: Where is Antoine Bush going to play?  The 5-10, 186-pound senior is as close as it gets to having a shut-down No. 1 corner, but he only came up with one interception and three broken up passes. He doesn't have the best wheels, but he has functional 4.6 speed. On the flip side, he can tackle making 34 stops last year. He'll combine with Royce Hill at one spot.

If Darien Williams doesn't take the strong safety job, it'll go to John Shorter, who made 13 tackles and an interception as a key reserve. At 6-0 and 190 pounds, the sophomore is a little bigger than Williams and is a strong hitter.

Coming in and expected to make an immediate impact is Ira Smith, a 5-11, 180-pound JUCO transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast JC. The junior made 52 tackles with three picks and 14 broken up passes last year, and unlike the other Mean Green corners, he has the speed to hang with the faster receivers with 4.4 wheels.

Watch Out For ... the sophomores. The secondary has to be far better and far more productive, meaning the young players have to grow up. Williams, Hill and Shorter have experience, but now they have to be better.
Strength: Options. This is as deep a secondary as UNT has had in several years with four good prospects at corner with three young, promising playmakers at safety.
Weakness
:
Production. The secondary didn't get any help from the pass rush, and it showed by allowing 278 yards per game. UNT was second-to-last in America in pass efficiency defense.
Outlook: The secondary has been the team's biggest problem over the last few years, but there's hope. This is a young, young group that took its lumps last season, and while it gave up a ton of yards and 34 touchdown passes, there are signs of improvement. After coming up with seven interceptions in the previous two seasons, the team came up with 12 last year. Fine, so five of the picks came from linebackers, but there was an improvement even if the stats didn't show it. Now there needs to be more production in all phases. The secondary has to grow up. 
Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: JUCO transfer Jeremy Knott came in from NE Oklahoma A&M and was took over for Thomas Moreland. The senior has one of the league's strongest legs and tremendous range, and now he has to be more consistent after hitting just 12-of-17 field goals. However, only one of his misses came from closer than 42 yards. He'll also have the early line on the punting job, replacing the solid Truman Spencer. Trent Deans will be given a shot, but it's Knott's job to lose because of his big leg.

Senior Truman Spencer is a big punter and a big weapon cranking out a 73-yarder on the way to a 41.6-yard average. He didn't get much help from his coverage team, but he was good at putting it inside the 20, doing it 12 times, and should be one of the team's better all-star prospects.

The kick return game has been awful for the last few years, but DaWaylon Cook will give it another try after averaging 19.5 yards per try. John Shorter has decent speed, but he only averaged 16.9 yards per try. The punt return game wasn't much better with Shorter only averaging 4.6 yards per try.

Watch Out For ... Shelton Gandy. The UNT special teams have been among the worst in America over the last few years, but Gandy, the new special teams coach, is in charge of changing that. There will be more of an emphasis on special teams than ever.
Strength: Knott's leg. He didn't get too many chances to air it out last year, but he has the leg to get some 50+ yard attempts.
Weakness: Coverage teams. A disaster two years ago, there was supposed to be an improvement going into last year. The situation was worse with the Mean Green giving up 13.1 yards per punt return, with two scores, and 31 yards per kickoff return, with three scores.
Outlook: The special teams have been an embarrassment for the last few years, but special teams coach Shelton Gandy has almost all the key parts back to work with, for good and bad. Everything needs improving.
Rating: 4