North Texas Mean
Preview 2009 - Defense
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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.
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
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
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
6-4, 286-pound senior
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.