Editor’s note: The following is part 2 of the comprehensive Season Preview Breakdown that can be found here, in pdf form. Follow @MGN_Breakdown for more stuff from Greg and @meangreennation for more MGN.
See Part 1 here
Another big story line is replacing all the senior leadership and production on the defensive side of the ball. Gone are Zach Orr, Marcus Trice, Aarron Bellazin, Richard Abbe, Ryan Boutwell, Brandon McCoy, and Will Wright. The Mean Green must replace 421 tackles, 47.5 tackles for loss, 24 sacks, 17 QB hurries, 18 pass break ups, 7 interceptions, 5 fumble recoveries, 7 forced fumbles, and 4 blocked kicks.
That’s a ton of production to replace and it won’t be easy.
The hardest hit area by departures is defensive line. McCarney is trying to replace four starters. Replacing production isn’t enough. They will need to replace the size also. Richard Abbe took up quite a bit of space and now there is a huge void left in the middle of the defense. Legendary Coach Paul Brown always believed in building down the middle first. UNT lost its big guy in the middle of the defensive line, the middle line backer, and the center-field safety. It is tough to rebuild from those kind of losses. Nevertheless, the Mean Green will try to reload with young up and coming talent. Austin Orr and Alexander Lincoln two undersized-but-quick interior defensive linemen will do their best to fill the voids left behind. On the outside of the DL McCarney will look to SR Daryl Mason, Chad Polk, Jarrian Roberts, and Malik Dilonga to get pressure on the QB. Polk and Roberts had strong springs and are good pass rushers. Dilonga also had a great spring which earned him a starting spot heading into fall camp. Mason, who started a few games last year, will try to anchor this group. He has the most experience out of the group and could be in for a breakout year.
Replacing the linebackers you can expect to hear the names Fred Scott, Sed Ellis, Jamal Marshall, and Calvin Minor. It’s a young group, but talented. They fly around and hit with a purpose. Scott will most likely be the day-one starter at MLB. Minor, Marshall, and Ellis will be battling it out for the other OLB spot. All of those guys are a bit slim, but they can cover a lot of ground and are really athletic. The final OLB spot will be held down by returning veteran Derek Akunne. Akunne is the leader of the entire defense. He has a chance to be an all-conference player this year.
The secondary will be the strength of the 2014 Mean Green defense. Led by returning starters Lairamie Lee, James Jones, and Kenny Buyers the secondary should be nasty good. Lee is a punishing hitter, Jones is a good solid starter and vocal leader, and Buyers who may be one of the best tacklers on the team. Zac Whitfield, a guy with good coverage ability, also returns this year. The only issue the secondary faces is trying to replace Marcus Trice. Coming out of spring it was a two man battle between Freddie Warner and Sheldon Wade.
Any time you’re trying to replace the kind of production that North Texas had is it’s going to be hard. The good news is the guys replacing starters have spent a year or two under the same system. The new guys understand what’s expected of them and most importantly they’ve got a good view of what it takes to be successful from last year’s seniors. Can you ask for better mentors than guys like Zach Orr, Marcus Trice, and Brandon McCoy? Spending 1 or 2 years learning the John Skladany system will only help the young guys in the decision making process on the field. Those few extra seconds of knowing what to do in a certain situation could be the difference in giving up a TD and getting a 3-and-out. This year’s group is not going to step onto the field and dominate like last year’s unit. They are going to make mistakes and miss assignments, but that’s just part of learning. By the end of the season the UNT defense could be one of the best in the conference. They have the athletic ability and talent to be really good. They just need the live action to get their feet under them. This should be a really fun group to watch.