UNT post-spring position battles: QB race remains intriguing

UNT running back Jeffrey Wilson carries the ball last season in a win over SMU at Apogee Stadium. Wilson is in line to start next season for the Mean Green and is  battling Antoinne Jimmerson, among others, for the lead role in the Mean Green's running back rotation, (Nathan Hunsinger/The Dallas Morning News)

UNT running back Jeffrey Wilson carries the ball last season in a win over SMU at Apogee Stadium. Wilson is in line to start next season for the Mean Green and is battling Antoinne Jimmerson, among others, for the lead role in the Mean Green’s running back rotation, (Nathan Hunsinger/The Dallas Morning News)

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.

New Mexico JC C Ray Barreno to Portland

One of the players UNT was hoping would bolster its front court is off the market.

New Mexico JC center Ray Barreno has committed to Portland.

Barreno visited UNT just a few days ago. New Mexico JC coach James Miller told us this week that Barreno was going to pick between UNT and Portland.

The Mean Green are looking for front court help following the graduation of forwards Colin Voss and Armani Flannigan. Arlington Pantego Christian center Rickey Brice could end up being a key player for the Mean Green, but he’s only going to be a freshman this fall.

He’s also just one guy.

UNT also has Muhammed Ahmed, but still needs some help and hoped Barreno could provide it.

The Mean Green will now have to look elsewhere.

Former Guyer QB to make call this week

There isn’t a more proven commodity when it comes to developing high school quarterback talent in Texas high school football than John Walsh over at Guyer.

Walsh might just have the starting quarterback at Texas this year in Jerrod Heard. His son J.W. plays for for Oklahoma State and has started and he’s got the No. 1 quarterback in the country in the Class of 2017 in Shawn Robinson.

I bring it up because another one of Walsh’s products is set to announce his college destination this week, and he might be headed to UNT’s biggest rival. David Moore was briefly in the quarterback race at Guyer before it became apparent that Robinson was Walsh’s next elite national recruit.

Moore left Guyer to go back to Prosper and then landed at Milton High in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Moore is announcing this week and the expectation is the the 30th-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the country ends up at SMU.

I still find it humorous that there are still UNT fans bitter over Walsh’s assessment that Kevin Dillman is better off playing tight end in college and that he isn’t a college quarterback as evidence stacks up and up and up that clearly indicates that Walsh knows exactly what he’s talking about. UNT’s coaches agreed with that assessment, by the way.

It doesn’t look like UNT jumped into the race for Moore, even though he had some connections to town.

Just something to watch on Thursday when Moore commits.

Kasondra Foreman addition looking more official

This bit of news is destined to become old news before it ever becomes official.

Former UNT guard Kasondra Foreman has been hanging around town for the last several days. She was at Jalie Mitchell’s introductory press conference and at Saturday’s spring game, where I talked to her for a bit.

Nothing was officially official about her joining Mitchell’s staff then, and it still isn’t now. We still said that it seemed likely that Foreman is about to join UNT’s staff.

Seemed like a safe bet since the soon-to-be former Northwestern State assistant is very close to Mitchell. Throw in the fact that Foreman’s attire made her greener than your average house plant on Saturday and you can see where this is headed.

Well, Foreman made it official. Well, kinda official, tonight.

Expect an announcement in the next day or so.

Video: Andrew McNulty talks about spring practice with some notes

I swung by the final workout of spring practice today and will have a few football items in tomorrow’s UNT notebook.

Until then, a couple of highlights to go along with the video interview above of Andrew McNulty, you’re winner and still starting quarterback, after a spring practice battle royale for the top line on the depth chart.

– Cortney Finney made a huge impression in the spring and has moved up to the top line on the depth chart along with Fred Scott at one outside linebacker spot. I would be surprised if Finney isn’t starting in the fall.

– McCarney named Carlos Harris as one of UNT’s top spring performers, which is no surprise. What is more encouraging than hearing that one of UNT’s best players is still one of UNT’s best players is that Turner Smiley and Tee Goree also impressed the coaching staff.

– McCarney feels good about UNT’s spring adjustments, including going to an up-tempo offense and the adjustment the Mean Green made to Chris Cosh’s defense, which is a bit different from what UNT ran under John Skladany. It’s always interesting to hear the final analysis after spring workouts.

Land makes SC Top 10

If you’re around a TV and want to catch a nice moment for UNT, flip on SportsCenter.

Mallory Land made today’s top 10 plays for a catch in the Mean Green softball team’s 6-3 loss to Oklahoma. Land races to the fence on the third-base side, reaches over and catches a ball that appeared to be out of reach and about to drop safely foul.

The Sooners are ranked fifth nationally. It’s a tough test to go into Norman.

Fortunately for the Mean Green they headed north feeling a little better about its prospects late in the season.

UNT appeared like it was in big trouble in terms of making the Conference USA tournament not too long ago, but got off the deck after losing nine straight to take two out of three in a conference series with rival UTSA over the weekend.

The Mean Green (16-24) are 8-9 in league play heading into a doubleheader at home tomorrow against Stephen F. Austin. UNT will then head to Ruston over the weekend to take on Louisiana Tech.

There are eight teams that make the C-USA tournament. UNT is in a tie for seventh with Charlotte. UTEP is lurking a half game back at 8-10.

A couple of basketball tidbits (recruiting, coaching staff nuggets)

We are usually about done with basketball at this time of the year, but with UNT having recently hired Jalie Mitchell there are still some moving parts. A couple of quick tidbits …

Jones

Jones

UNT officially announced the addition of Texas transfer Nekia Jones after news came out earlier that she is on her way to Denton.

And with the release comes a bit of insight from Mitchell on Jones, who she coached at Texas.

“Nekia is an incredible addition to this team. Her playmaking ability automatically takes us to another level and she can be a problem for opponents at a couple different positions. Whether it’s scoring or setting up a teammate, she will bring a lot of energy and excitement to the Super Pit.

“Fans will love Nekia’s personality, kind heart and character. The knowledge she gained in the last two years, along with her competitive nature and grit, will bring an element to this team that we need to compete for conference championships. She has the full package and I’m very happy that she chose to continue her career wearing Mean Green.”

We mentioned when Mitchell was hired that there were a few players UNT had already picked up commitments from, including Humble Kingwood guard Brooke Jolivette. I talked to Jolivette when she committed to UNT.

Mitchell said she would reach out to those players who had committed to UNT after she was hired. A member of the Jolivette family said today that the conversation had taken place and that Brooke is still headed to UNT.

While it is not official yet, it looks like UNT women’s director of operations Brandon Miller will be retained in what seems like a good move for Mitchell. Miller is good at what he does and knows where all the bodies are buried since he has been around.

And speaking of recruiting, there has been some speculation that USC transfer McKenzie Calvert might be considering UNT. Mitchell has connections to USC coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke from their time together at UNC-Wilmington.

Calvert, a former Steele guard, told me tonight that she is not considering continuing her career at UNT “at the moment.”

Calvert averaged 10.2 points a game as a freshman. She’s a stud and will have options.

Barreno

Barreno

On the men’s hoops front, UNT is still waiting on New Mexico JC forward Ray Barreno to decide what he wants to do. He visited UNT recently.

I spoke real quick with New Mexico JC coach James Miller today. He expects Barreno to decide between UNT and Portland within the next couple of days.

Miller said he things Barreno could help the Mean Green.

“He’s 6-11, 260 and is very physical and can score around the basket,” Miller said. “He is zero maintenance and has great grades. He could play right away and help at North Texas.”

Miller described Barreno as a true center. UNT added one player who fits that mold in high school signee Rickey Brice. Barreno would offer UNT a similar player — at least in terms of size — with more experience.

UNT women pick up transfer

Jones

Jones

Jalie Mitchell has her first recruit as the head coach at North Texas.

Nekia Jones, a 5-11 forward from Texas, announced on Twitter that she is transferring to UNT.

The former Beaumont Ozen standout spent two seasons at Texas. She averaged 5.4 points in 18 games last season with the Longhorns.

Mitchell came to UNT from Texas, where she was an assistant coach under Karen Aston.

Jones scored a season-high 15 points in a game against Iowa State last season. She did not play in the final 13 games of the season due to a knee injury that required surgery in March.

“I want to thank The University of Texas family and fans for all the moments and memories we have shared here,” Jones said in a statement Texas released to announce her departure. “I consider myself fortunate to have met so many new people who have impacted my life. I wish the future Longhorns nothing but the best. As my journey continues, I will always be a Longhorn for life.”

Jones elected to continue her career at UNT, where she will be part of Mitchell’s rebuilding project with the Mean Green. UNT has suffered through nine straight losing seasons and hired Mitchell in the hope she could turn the program around.

UNT finished 5-24 last season in its final campaign under former coach Mike Petersen. UNT lost its top two players from that team to graduation in forward Briesha Wynn and guard BreAnna Dawkins.

Jones could help fill the void left by Wynn’s departure when she becomes eligible. Jones played in the second semester at Texas and is transferring after the spring semester. She will likely have to sit out a full season after transferring to UNT.

UNT NFL Draft profile: Akunne will try to follow Orr’s path into NFL

North Texas linebacker Derek Akunne could follow the path set by former UNT linebacker Zach Orr, who made the Baltimore Ravens roster as an undrafted free agent. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas linebacker Derek Akunne could follow the path set by former UNT linebacker Zach Orr, who made the Baltimore Ravens roster as an undrafted free agent. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

Derek Akunne, OLB

Height: 6-0

Weight: 242

Projected round: Undrafted free agent

Derek Akunne operated in the shadow of Zach Orr, another standout UNT linebacker, for the first two years of his college career before becoming the Mean Green’s top defensive player as a senior. Akunne was a first-team All-Conference USA selection in his final year with the Mean Green, when he finished with 108 tackles. Akunne is a little on the short side at 6-feet tall and fits the profile of several of UNT’s top players who were not elite recruits coming out of high school because they lacked the measurables that Big 12 teams look for in players. Akunne was highly productive despite less-than-ideal size and will likely try to follow in the footsteps of Orr, who made the Baltimore Ravens roster as an undrafted free agent.

Mock drafts:

CBS Sports — undrafted

UNT NFL Draft profile: Will Cyril Lemon break UNT’s draft drought?

North Texas offensive lineman was a standout player and leader off the field who started every game of his college career on North Texas' offensive line.

North Texas offensive lineman was a standout player and leader off the field who started every game of his college career on North Texas’ offensive line.

Cyril Lemon, OG

Height: 6-3

Weight: 312

Projected round: Undrafted free agent

Cyril Lemon is one of two players, along with linebacker Derek Akunne, who have a chance to break North Texas’ drought in the NFL draft. UNT hasn’t had a player selected since linebacker Cody Spencer in 2004. Lemon was a terrific player for the Mean Green. He started every game during his four-year career and was a first-team All-Conference USA pick in his junior and senior seasons. Lemon is a natural guard, but was forced to move outside to tackle for a large portion of his senior season after the graduation of LaChris Anyiam, a player UNT struggled to replace. Lemon is a high character player. UNT head coach Dan McCarney said he never had a single problem with the team captain. What might drop Lemon in the eyes of scouts is that he is a little on the short side and only posted 14 bench reps at his pro day.

Mock drafts:

NFL Draft scout — undrafted

CBS– Undrafted

What they are saying:

Gil Brant of NFL.com – Offensive lineman Cyril Lemon (6-foot-2 3/4, 312 pounds) ran the 40-yard dash in 5.45 seconds with the wind and 5.55 seconds against the wind. He had a 24-inch vertical jump and 8-foot-4 broad jump. Lemon ran the 20-yard short shuttle in 4.84 seconds and the three-cone drill in 8.22 seconds. Lemon — who has 34-inch arms — performed 14 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. Lemon has been a four-year starter at North Texas and was a good player for the Mean Green. He had a good positional workout at the pro day, but needs to improve his strength. He’ll be a good free agent to bring into camp.