Signing Day is around the corner and per a request from friend-of-the blog, here is what North Texas is looking for. This is a compilation of some of the things written on this site and in the season preview e-book.
We are not in the huddle or the game-planning sessions but after three years of watching this team recruit and play, and knowing a little about the systems we have an idea of the roster requirements. When you see NT going after some players this coming signing day, use this guide to help project their ideal fit into the scheme.
Since Littrell has been the head coach, he has preferred a 3-3-5 / 4-2-5 hybrid. Officially it is called “multiple” but it is referred to as a 3-stack defense even though North Texas rarely lines up in the traditional 3-3-5 look. Instead, North Texas has 4-2-5 defense with some 3-stack nomenclature.
TCU has a 3-3-5 look they call ‘nickel’ and all 4-down lineman team have a 3-stack look. Most 3-3-5 and 3-4 defenses have a 4-DL package. It is all the same.1
Let’s talk broad strokes first. Every defense would like to have behemoths who can fly. As compromises with the laws of physics are made, teams make choices.
In this defense there is a pass-rushing defensive end, and a run-stopping defensive end. The “DE” is really the JACK LB. We will get to that later. The Nose tackle is usually bigger, and the other tackle is lighter and can probably play some of the run-stopping DE spot if he is versatile.
The linebackers are usually split between a run-stuffing guy and a versatile one. The corners are usually field-boundary, unless they are not. Generally speaking, the more versatile you are the better for everyone. The safeties are generally interchangeable, but usually one or two are better at run support while the other is better in coverage. The NICK ( in our terminology, it is the $pur in others ) is a hybrid. Not quite linebacker, not quite safety.
Let us get into specifics.
Nose: The foundation of the defense. The ideal size is “big” and strong. Weight at about 300+ lbs and strong as an ox. Most defenses want this man to command two-blockers.
Every defense needs a good nose tackle, and NT is no different. Ulaiasi Tauaalo is 6’2″ 300 lbs. Bryce English is 5’11” 297 lbs. Rod Young, who has spent time in the position over the last few years, is 6’1″ 298 lbs.
Strong Side DE: This man is usually a little stouter, as he has to be on the strong side of the defense, inside the tackle. He usually faces the strength of the offense and the focus of the run game. Ideal weight is somewhere between 270-290 lbs.
Rod Young, again, plays here for NT. The defense also likes to have Dion Novil in to play the other DE spot to have a “big” old 3-4 defense look with two space-eating DEs to go with a big Nose tackle. This usually for the bigger sets in short-yardage and goal line.
Jack: This is a pass-rushing linebacker. Jack linebackers are usually found in 3-4 defenses but they do the same thing as a 4-3 defensive end. DeMarcus Ware, Charles Haley, Bruce Smith, and so on. In most 4-DL sets this is called the Elephant or WDE or LEO or something. Southern Miss calls it Wolf. The idea is that it is different and supposed to get to the QB and drop in coverage. You need an athlete here. Ideal size is something like 6’3″ – 6’7″ 230-250 lbs, that is super quick and good in space.
North Texas had Josh Wheeler the last two years here. He was 6’3″ 230 lbs. Joe Ozougwu is 6’3″ 235 lbs and Jamie King is 6’3″ 231 lbs. Last year NT also put EJ Ejiya here also. He has the same size. NT’s latest haul of LBs like Tim Faison, Darrian McMillan all are near this height/weight and should grow into it if not.
DE: This is where it can be confusing. When NT has that SS DE play like a “3-technique” tackle (meaning on one of the offensive guards) this other DE becomes the “strong side DE.” On pass rushing downs, this is where NT will have two pass-rushing defensive ends. Ideally can play defensive end. Depending on the need, it can be another pass-rusher or another DE.
NT uses LaDarius Hamilton here — 6’3″ 240 lbs. Sometimes when they need more size they go with Caleb Colvin or Dion Novil. Colvin is 270 lbs, and Novil is 285 lbs.
MLB and WLB: These linebackers need to stop the run, and occasionally run in space. Everyone needs to be able to run, obviously, but these backers have some crossing and underneath route responsibilities. Good height — something about 5’11” – 6’4″ is fine, and solid enough to make tackles while light enough to run everywhere is ideal. Weight about 210 lbs at the lightest to about 240 lbs at the heaviest.
North Texas’ linebackers are 5’11” 223 lbs (Brandon Garner) and 6’3″ 231 lbs (EJ Ejiya). They are fast and hit hard, while being sure tacklers.
Safeties: Most teams like a free safety and a strong safety that likes to hit. The free safety is more coverage, while the strong safety can come up and make tackles. Defensive back size — no more than about 210 lbs and usually in the 195-200 lbs range.
North Texas is really interchangeable with their safeties. Khairi Muhammad and Makyle Sanders are about the same height and weight — 5’11” 185/191 lbs respectively. Both are solid in coverage but Khairi is probably the better at both aspects.
Nick: The “extra” safety is usually a hybrid linebacker/safety. Most often it is just another strong safety. Ideally, this man can cover a DB and hit like a LB without losing anything. Most often, teams will have to swap this position for the better coverage DB on passing downs.
North Texas has used Ashton Preston, Dee Baulkman, Tyreke Davis, and Jameel Moore here. Ashton, Dee, and Tyreke are all in the safety mold — about 200 lbs, while Moore was a backup corner. Teams have recently picked on this position — anyone in here really, but most recently Tyreke Davis got burned by UTSA and ODU — as this is the weakest of the five defensive backs. The right guy here can be a game-changer — someone that can do it all, wreaking havoc.
This is much easier, as the offense can set the tone. Defenses have to be reactive while offenses are proactive and set the personnel each play.
NT still runs the Air Raid but a more modern, run-friendly version.
QB: Ideal QB is about 6’4″ with a rocket arm and enough heft to withstand a couple of hits while also being mobile enough to extend the play. Patrick Mahomes is great but any QB has to be smart and accurate above all else. Mike Leach talked about his QBs needing to be accurate first, because it doesn’t matter how much arm they have if it is not where it is supposed to be.
Mason Fine is short but accurate and has improved his deep ball that now he is one of the best in the nation. He knows where to go with the ball and makes great decisions. He’s a great example of size not being the number one factor in QB-finding.
LT: Tackles are usually tall and quick enough to keep up with the freak athlete defensive end/ pass rushing linebackers. Ideally they are tall so they can get their long arms out and protect that way. Flip this if you are a lefty QB. Something like a 6’5″ 300 lbs guy with great mobility — quickness, balance, reaction.
Jordan Murray is 6’9″ and has good mobility. He gets a ton of flack because he might be a little taller than the ideal range for a left tackle and so does not have the greatest leverage against the pass rush.
RT: You can probably live with your second-best tackle being out here. This still has a ton of pass-protection responsibilities, but usually this is the run-clearing tackle. Ideal is a quick, long-armed tackle with heft that can bulldoze and move.
LG/RG: Guards need to be powerful, but quick enough to pull and get out and block on gap-runs. Ideally something like 6’3″ 323 lbs or so — strong enough to deal with the mammoth nose guards, but mobile enough to get a hat on a linebacker in space.
NT has Elex Woodworth — a converted LT — at left guard (6’4″ 288 lbs) and Manase Mose at RG — 6’1″ 294 lbs. Woodworth has been good but Mose has been outstanding.
C: The center is usually the smallest and most mobile of the lineman, they usually have the responsibility of calling out the blocking assignments.
NT has Sosaia Mose, 6’1″ 301 lbs. He has also been outstanding.
Outside WRs: X and Z: In the Air Raid, the outside WRs are the biggest, fastest, and most prototypical WRs on the team. Usually about 6’3″-6’5″ 195-220 lbs, they are responsible for getting vertical, beating man coverage, and winning 1-on-1 matchups against the opposition’s best cover guys. Mike Crabtree was 6’1″ 215lbs, could jump, run, and catch everything.
Rico Bussey Jr and Jalen Guyton are the outside WRs for NT. Bussey is 6’2″ 190 lbs, and Guyton is 6’1″ 202 lbs. Both can run and stretch the defense vertically, but also can get yards on medium and deep crossing routes. They catch shorter stuff for variety, but they need to win the medium to deep stuff for this offense to run best.
Inside WRs: Y and H: Some teams call the ‘H’, ‘A’. It is the same thing. The ‘Y’ was traditionally a TE but in the 4-WR sets it is usually a slight-of-frame slot WR. Wes Welker did it for Mike Leach at Texas Tech and went on to be the prototypical slot guy in the NFL. While shortness is what people think of, it is really about route precision and quickness. The size thing came about because Tech usually got the cast-offs — guys who would not normally find their way on a roster.
Mike Lawrence 5’10” 181 lbs and Jaelon Darden 5’9″ 165 lbs have had good-to-great seasons in their two years here. Lawrence caught a bunch of passes last year while Darden has been explosive in the slot this year.
Y / H-back / TE: Again, the traditional Y-position was a TE and the intermediate crossing routes, the flag routes, the “safety valve” stick-routes are all from the original BYU-era playbook. A pass-catching TE that can also block in the run game is ideal. A slighter-than-normal TE is fine but a big guy is awesome. Gronk was an Air Raid TE.
Kelvin Smith is 6’2″ 243 lbs TE with sure hands and quick feet. He is solid in the run game, too.
RB or F: The Air Raid backs of the Texas Tech days were slight, quick, pass-catching guys — one guy had 100 catches — and this again was due to the recruiting available to Leach in those days. As the entire sport has moved toward spread-and-shred it is clear that a good back in more space is fine. Power backs, scat-backs, and so on have all thrived in this position.
Jeff Wilson, Loren Easly, DeAndre Torrey, Wily Ivery, Nic Smith — these guys have all had nice games — 150+ yards rushing — in this offense and caught the ball and made plays. NT has favored some more power looks — using an H-Back/TE — and usually will carry at least one power back. Loren Easly was that power guy until he was hurt. DeAndre Torrey is the evidence of what happens when there is lots of space to run in, and a speedster with the ball in his hands.
H-Back: As mentioned previously, NT has favored an H-Back at times. Last year, Cannon Maki was a full-back without the name for a while. NT has favored Kelvin Smith in that role this year. NT will not likely recruit for this role, but backup TEs might be ideal here.
It is important to remember that you want football players and not beauty pageant winners. While some coaches will choose a guy that fits their profile over a good football player who is undersized, (Nick Saban is famous for this) they usually have the advantage of choosing a 5-star athlete and know they can coach them into the player they need.
Ultimately, the result is the most important thing. EJ Ejiya is the leading sack-man on the squad and he is a MLB. That is “supposed” to be the Jack. Does it matter? Not so much, as long as the defense is getting stops.
- Utah State, the bowl opponent lists four linebackers. In truth, one of those is a NICK/Spur (210 lbs) and the other is a JACK LB (6’5″ 230 lbs). ↩