Key returnees: DE Tillman Johnson (senior), DE Andy Flusche (senior), NT Roderick Young (junior), NT T.J. Tauaalo (junior), DE LaDarius Hamilton (sophomore), DT Sid Moore (senior)
Key losses: DE Jareid Combs (graduation), DE Malik Dilonga (graduation), DE Jarrian Roberts (graduation), NT Demonte Hood (graduation)
Newcomers: NT Bryce English (transfer), DE JoJo Ozougwu (redshirt freshman), DT Dion Novil (freshman), DT Tony Krasniqi (freshman), DE Kevin Dillman (sophomore who moved over from tight end)
Biggest unanswered question: UNT was hit hard by graduation at defensive end, where Combs, Dilonga and Roberts combined to start every game of the 2016 season at the two defensive end spots in the Mean Green’s 3-3-5 defense.
UNT’s production was evenly spread among the players it rotated in its front seven, but Combs was among the Mean Green’s top players. He finished with 3.0 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Only linebacker Joshua Wheeler had more tackles for loss and sacks than Combs at 7.5 and 5.5, respectively.
Roberts led the Mean Green with five quarterback hurries. UNT’s trio of departed defensive ends combined for 5.5 sacks and 13.0 tackles for loss.
Why 2017 production could be better: The addition of English should be a boost for UNT. The Kansas State transfer has terrific size at 305 pounds and will be tough to move in the middle of the Mean Green’s defensive line. English will bolster an already strong part of UNT’s defense.
Young was somewhat overlooked last season, but was a force at nose tackle. He finished with 4.0 quarterback hurries. UNT also has Tauaalo back. He will also be a part of UNT’s nose tackle rotation.
Why 2017 production could be worse: UNT has a few contributors returning at defensive end, including Johnson and Flusche, but could take a significant step back at the position. Combs, Dilonga and Roberts formed an experienced trio that helped anchor UNT’s defense. UNT has some young players who could help, but no immediate impact transfers who will help fill the void.
Overall outlook: Expectations are high for English, who could be an impact player after sitting out a year. There is little doubt UNT adding the former DeSoto standout to a rotation at nose tackle that will will be anchored by Young will be a boost.
One of the bigger questions for UNT’s defense heading into Seth Litrrell’s second season is if the Mean Green can find enough quality players to replace those it lost at defensive end. There are not many promising options.
UNT will also have to adjust to having a new defensive line coach after the departure of Derrick LeBlanc for Kentucky. Marc Yellock is expected to officially take over that role on the Mean Green’s staff in the next few days.
UNT could be as good as last season overall, but improving could be tough with the losses the Mean Green suffered at defensive end.