North Texas is the first Texas FBS school to take the field for spring practice, blessed football is back sans tackling the quarterback and playing other teams. Here's a quick primer on what we'd like to see from the Mean Green as spring ball kicks up.
Quarterback, Quarterback, Quarterback
We've written about Mason Fine before. Here. And here. This is a big spring for the rising sophomore from Locus Grove, Oklahoma. Fine burst onto the scene in week two vs. Bethune Cookman and started the majority of the remainder of UNT's games until injury cut his season short. He played well above his projection in 2016.
He's back but Alec Morris, the Alabama transfer who saw duty in Fine's absence is gone. North Texas signed two quarterbacks who are both on campus this spring, Cade Pearson from Texarkana may be best served with a redshirt season (We thought the same thing about Fine last season but we were wrong, let that temper our opinion) and JC transfer Devlin Isadore who'll be limited due to a knee injury.
So we're back to Mason Fine, the very undersized, sophomore who exceeded everyone's expectations. If he can continue to develop, North Texas will be in good hands heading into the fall.
The Mean Green offensive line was patchwork at best in 2016, still the unit performed admirably even with diminished numbers. North Texas loses Sam Rice and Trey Keenan to graduation. Rice flexed between guard and center while Keenan was steady at right tackle for the Mean Green in 2016. Chuck Langston steps in as the position coach for the offensive line replacing Brad Davis who left for Florida.
Jordan Murray returns, a mammoth 6-8 tackle who played both left tackle and right guard last season. If he or Elex Woodworth can hold down the tackle position, call that a win for the spring. Someone needs to hold down a job. Last season the Mean Green offensive line was a revolving door with two starters at left tackle, left guard, and center and four starters at right guard. North Texas started four different line combinations.
Langston will need to get some sort of established front five and depth heading out of the spring.
Head coach Seth Littrell is a spread disciple in the Mike Leach coaching tree. It's no secret what he'd like to do on offense. But does he have the pass catchers to pull it off in 2017? Thaddeous Thompson, Terian Goree and Kenny Buyers are all gone. That's three of the top four receivers from 2016. Add to that the loss of Willy Ivery and four of the top six pass catchers are gone.
Turner Smiley returns along with his 33 catches and the Mean Green will look to JC transfer Jalen Guyton for some explosiveness in the passing game. Guyton caught 12 touchdowns last season at Trinity Valley. Look for some graduate transfer help as well to bolster depth.
The Defensive Front
Last season, out of necessity, the Mean Green used primarily odd man front, otherwise there weren't nearly enough bodies to go around. This year the Mean Green will be without three key contributors at defensive end. Jareid Combs, Malik Dilonga, and Jarrian Roberts were responsible for 23 of the 24 defensive end starts. Inside the Mean Green lose K-State transfer DeMonte Hood.
The news inside is much better with Bryce English eligible after sitting out 2016 due to transfer rules. The DeSoto product came to North Texas from Kansas State. Roderick Young, who started eleven games, comes back as well inside.
Coming out of the spring, the Mean Green will need to try and piece together some sort of defensive end rotation, using the interior strength of the unit as a focal point.
New Coaches, lots of new coaches
Seth Littrell's first coaching staff was pillaged by power five teams this offseason. Davis, Mike Ekeler, and Derrick LeBlanc all left Littrell's staff for SEC and ACC jobs. As a result the Mean Green are replacing their co-defensive coordinator and both line coaches.
A competent staff is the hallmark of a good head coach and Littrell put together a good one. Florida, North Carolina, and Kentucky all think so. Littrell's new staff will need to develop a report with their new charges quickly and the spring will be the spring board for that.