Key questions of the offseason Part III — Can UNT reload up front defensively?

North Texas linebacker Cortney Finney (17) tackles Bethune-Cookman wide receiver Jawill Davis last season. Finney is one of several key players UNT must replace in its front six on defense. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

North Texas linebacker Cortney Finney (17) tackles Bethune-Cookman wide receiver Jawill Davis last season. Finney is one of several key players UNT must replace in its front six on defense. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

One of the surprising aspects of North Texas breakout season in 2016 was the performance of the Mean Green’s defense — particularly its front six.

UNT moved to a 3-3-5 after spending the previous season in a 4-3 and had a lot of adjusting to do up front.

For the most part, the transition went really well. UNT cut the number of points it allowed per game from 41.2 to 32.6 and made a series of key stops along the way.

The Mean Green came up with a fourth-down stop that sealed its overtime win over Rice  and came up with another key stop late in a win over Southern Miss.

The challenge for UNT heading into the 2017 will be replacing so many of the key players who helped the Mean Green make their big jump defensively.

UNT’s top three defensive ends — Jareid Combs, Malik Dilonga and Jarian Roberts — all completed their careers after last season.

The Mean Green also lost starting linebackers Courtney Finney and Fred Scott. Defensive tackle Demonte Hood, who contributed in one season after transferring in from Kansas State, also graduated.

Finney finished second among UNT players with 78 tackles, while Scott added 55. Combs posted three sacks and was one of the Mean Green’s most disruptive defensive linemen.

UNT didn’t have many players who ranked among the elite talents in Conference USA, but it did have a lot of veteran players. I am a big believer in experience and guys who have proven they can play at the college level.

UNT has two good linebackers ready to step in with Brandon Garner and E.J. Ejiya. Garner played quite a bit last season and finished with 50 tackles. Ejiya added 43.

What UNT will have behind them could be a bit of a concern heading into the season.

Joshua Wheeler and Calvin Minor return at the Jack, which will help.

The Mean Green won’t have nearly that level of experience at defensive end and will have to hope Tillman Johnson and Andy Flusche can help fill the void.

The return of Roderick Young and T.J. Tauaalo at nose tackle and the addition of Bryce English should help.

Any way one slices it, UNT is losing four of its starters out of its front six and will have to reload.

Here is our list so far:

1. How does the QB race play out?

2. Can UNT reload at the skill positions?

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