After a somewhat extended hiatus from our post spring series on UNT’s roster, we are back at it today with a look at the Mean Green’s linebackers.
When one thinks about it now, linebacker was one of UNT’s deepest positions in 2011.
Zach Orr led UNT in tackles with 74, even though he missed the last three games of the season due to injury and was named second team All-Sun Belt.
Brad Graham posted 52 tackles, Mike Stojkovic 48, Forlando Johnson 41, Julian Herron 31, Will Wright 31, Jeremy Phillips 21 and Derek Akunne 20.
UNT was lucky it had as much depth as it did at linebacker. That depth helped the Mean Green get by in a season it lost Phillips for half the year and Orr for the last three games of the season due to injury.
UNT lost Graham, Johnson and Herron to graduation, which is a significant hit to the Mean Green’s rotation at outside linebacker. Herron was one of UNT’s best playmakers. He had four fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and 3.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
The good news is that UNT will have several key players back, beginning with Orr. It doesn’t seem like Orr has been around that long, but he will be a junior in the fall and should be among the top middle linebackers in the Sun Belt.
UNT’s two starting outside linebacker are Jeremy Phillips and Will Wright, who check in at 215 and 217 pounds, respectively. UNT will be a little small on the perimeter even by Sun Belt standards, but Phillips is a proven Sun Belt player and Wright gained a lot of experience last year.
Derek Akunne started the last couple games of the season at middle linebacker in place of Orr and gained some experience. He had seven tackles in a late-season loss to Western Kentucky.
UNT doesn’t have as much experience with its backups at outside linebacker, where redshirt freshman Kendall Washington and Chad Polk are listed second on the depth chart.
The bottom line is that while UNT has some concerns heading into next year, linebacker isn’t high on the list as long as everyone remains healthy.
What would have helped UNT significantly is if Mike Stojkovic, who was something of a find as a freshman, would have been ready to go next year. Stojkovic stepped in when Phillips went down and finished fifth among UNT players with his 48 tackles to go along with two sacks. He has a tough edge and is a physical player. Stojkovic left the team in the off-season, and his status somewhat up in the air.
The former Katy quarterback could rejoin the team by the fall, but is not in UNT’s plans for next year.
The loss of Stojkovic leaves UNT without a lot of depth at linebacker. An injury to a key player, especially at outside linebacker could be tough for UNT to overcome.
If everyone remains healthy, UNT could have a solid Sun Belt group at the second level of its defense. And that is exactly what UNT needs heading into a season when its secondary will be a huge question mark and its defensive front will have a big hole to fill following the departure of Brandon Akpunku at defensive end.