UNT wrapped up spring practice on Tuesday, but still has a lot of issues to work through before heading to SMU for its season-opener in the fall.
Among the Mean Green’s biggest dilemmas is settling on a new quarterback, but it’s far from the only decision UNT must make. There are multiple position battles that will extend into fall practice.
Here is a look at the most important of those battles and how they will impact the Mean Green’s efforts to bounce back from a 4-8 season.
Quarterback: There is no more important issue UNT faces than making a final decision at quarterback. The Mean Green entered the 2014 season looking for a way to replace Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP Derek Thompson and ended up starting three quarterbacks. None could fill the void Thompson left, but all three return in Andrew McNulty, Josh Greer and Dajon Williams. What makes the situation all the more intriguing is that JUCO transfer DaMarcus Smith was supposed to join the fray in spring, but was academically ineligible. He will arrive in the fall. McNutly came out of the spring game solidly atop UNT’s depth chart, but still has work to do to hang on to the job. The plan is for UNT to work with three quarterbacks in the fall, McNulty and Smith will be two of those players. The third will be either Greer or Williams.
Linebacker: UNT coach Dan McCarney said that the Mean Green need to improve at the position after last season, which doesn’t look like it will be easy following the graduation of All-Conference USA performer Derek Akunne. UNT has a few solid players to work with and a new defensive coordinator and linebacker coach in Chris Cosh. The Mean Green moved several of its players around with middle linebacker Fred Scott shifting outside and Jamal Marshall, who started at times last season, moving back to cornerback, his high school position. There is no telling how UNT will line up at SMU. A couple of key battles to watch are Scott versus highly regarded JUCO transfer Cortney Finney, Blake Bean vs. Anthony Wallace at middle linebacker (if Wallace can get healthy) and Sed Ellis vs. Calvin Minor at the other outside linebacker spot. Finney was arguably UNT’s biggest star defensively in UNT’s spring game and appears likely to start.
Cornerback: One of the interesting stories of the spring was Marshall’s move from outside linebacker to cornerback. It seemed like a bit of an odd move at the time, but Marshall looked good once he settled in. Marshall has always been one of the fastest players on UNT’s roster, but he struggled with coverage fundamentals when he first arrived. That prompted the Mean Green’s staff to move him to linebacker, where they thought he would grow into an impact player. He started at times last season, but his heart wasn’t at linebacker. Marshall asked to move back and dropped weight. Since Marshall made the switch, he has shown a better grasp of the fundamentals and is now in a heated competition with Chad Davis to start opposite Kenny Buyers.
Running back: One player who has shot up UNT’s depth chart since the middle of last season is running back Jeffrey Wilson. The Mean Green’s staff thought he was a star in the making when they signed him in 2014 out of Elkhart. Wilson was buried on UNT’s depth chart behind Reggie Pegram and Antoinne Jimmerson at the beginning of last season, but by the end of the year, he’d worked his way toward the top and rushed for 105 yards in a season-ending loss to UTSA. Wilson finished spring atop the depth chart and will battle Jimmerson for the starting job in the fall. Pegram is gone after graduating. Who starts might not matter a whole lot with the way UNT rotates running backs.
Offensive line: UNT lost four starters on its offensive line after last season and spent the spring trying to remake its lineup. By the time the spring game rolled around, redshirt freshman Chris Miles was in line to start at right tackle. He’s battling senior Micah Thompson for playing time. UNT is far from set up front outside of returning starting center Kaydon Kirby and will finish sorting out its lineup in the fall.