Over the next few weeks, there will be a lot of preview stories written on UNT that will list the Mean Green with up to six starters returning on defense. While that is technically true, it doesn’t tell the whole story about what UNT will have to work with as it heads into the 2012 season.
Defensive linemen Brandon McCoy, Ryan Boutwell and Tevinn Cantly are back.
Cornerback Freddie Warner could be listed as a returning starter, but he started just three games last year and has been sidelined until at least midseason by a knee injury he suffered in spring practice. Linebacker Michael Stojkovic was off the roster and then welcomed back, but his status for the upcoming season is still somewhat up in the air. There is a good chance he will redshirt this fall. Linebacker Jeremy Phillips was a starter two years ago and is back, but started just two games last year due to injury. Will Wright started three games, but eventually lost his starting job to since departed senior Forlando Johnson.
That means there is just one other true starter returning outside of the trio of defensive linemen in Zach Orr, who will without a doubt be the most important player UNT has defensively next season. Orr was a captain as a sophomore and is mature beyond his years, both as a person and a player.
Orr played in just nine games before an injury cut his season short and was remarkably productive. He finished with 74 tackles and two sacks. He recovered two fumbles and forced another.
UNT will need Orr to maintain that production. Without Stojkovic, UNT will have just two of its top 10 tacklers returning in Orr and McCoy. Sun Belt teams often load up on junior college players when facing the loss of so many key players in one shot. UNT didn’t, adding just JUCO defensive back D.Q. Johnson. Safety Marcus Trice will also be eligible after sitting out last season after transferring from Oklahoma.
Orr won’t be the only player on the defensive side of the ball with leadership ability returning, not with McCoy also coming back and Trice becoming eligible, but there is little doubt UNT will turn to its middle linebacker to set the tone.
Orr’s role with be all the more important with the Mean Green bringing in John Skladany, the team’s third defensive coordinator in three years.
UNT head coach Dan McCarney picked Orr to be his team’s representative at media day, which is just another indication of how much the staff thinks of Orr and how much it will lean on him this season.
UNT finished fifth during Sun Belt Conference play a year ago in scoring defense with an average of 27.1 points allowed per game, a total bolstered by a season-ending 59-7 pounding of Middle Tennessee that Orr did not play in.
The Mean Green will have to rebuild after losing several key players from the unit that came up with that performance, including the entire defensive secondary.
Orr will be one of the key building blocks.