UNT opens fall camp Monday, here are a few key issues to watch

UNT linebacker Derek Akunne chases quarterback Connor Means during spring practice. Akunne will be one of the key veterans UNT will turn to as it looks to build on a breakout nine-win season when it opens spring practice today. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

UNT will begin fall practice Monday afternoon. Workouts are closed, but there are several key story lines that can be tracked through what the Mean Green’s coaches and players have to say.

Here are a few issues of interest heading into the opening of a new season.

1. What does UNT’s offense look like with so many new players at key spots?

UNT will continue the search for a new starting quarterback today when Andrew McNulty and Josh Greer will alternate snaps with the first and second teams. McNulty, a career backup, and Greer, a JUCO transfer, appear to have the best chance to win the starting job.

Head coach Dan McCarney has been careful to say that Dajon Williams and Connor Means are not out of the hunt yet, though.

UNT is quickly running out of time to determine who its starter will be before its season opener at Texas.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the key players UNT must replace on the offensive side of the ball this fall.

Starting running back Brandin Byrd and wide receivers Brelan Chancellor and Darnell Smith are also gone. Offensive coordinator Mike Canales once compared playing without an injured Chancellor to coaching with one arm tied behind his back.

UNT has two capable replacements for Byrd in Antoinne Jimmerson and Reggie Pegram, who will return after missing the final five games of last season due to injury.

UNT also has some key receivers returning, including Carlos Harris and a few freshmen who could make an impact led by Carthage wide receiver Tee Goree.

What remains to be seen is if UNT has the skill position players to complement what should be a terrific offensive line led by preseason All-Conference USA guards Cyril Lemon and Mason Y’Barbo.

2. Does UNT have playmakers defensively?

UNT lost several seniors who made a ton of plays last year on the defensive side of the ball and played a key role in the Mean Green ranking eighth nationally with an average of 17.8 points allowed a game.

UNT lost linebacker Zach Orr (4 fumble recoveries, 13.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks), safety Marcus Trice (5 interceptions), defensive end Aaron Bellazin (9.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) and defensive end Brandon McCoy (6.0 sacks) just to name a few.

UNT must find players to replace that production.

3. Does UNT have the leadership among its players without its seniors?

One of the reasons UNT played in its first bowl game since 2004 last year was a senior class that provided leadership on and off the field. UNT’s players talked all season about a speech Orr gave before the Mean Green opened the season against Idaho and how it set the tone for the year.

Chancellor, Orr, Trice and Thompson were all leaders in one way or another.

The question now is how to fill the void.

There are a few candidates, including Harris and cornerback Kenny Buyers, but no one has the proven leadership qualities of a player like Orr, who was a three-time team captain.

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