North Texas is pretty sure of what it has when it comes to a few of its key players on the offensive side of the ball heading into its season opener at LSU in a couple of weeks, including newly minted college graduate Derek Thompson.
UNT’s starting quarterback picked up his diploma just hours before the Mean Green’s first scrimmage of fall practice on Saturday morning.
From that point on, what became a bigger concern for UNT — and for Thompson — was picking out secondary targets at wide receiver and breaking in a few running backs.
UNT found out a lot about what it might have in terms of several of the players who will fill key roles this season during a closed, 130-play scrimmage at the Darrell R. Dickey Practice Facility.
“The best part was we got 130 plays in, had a chance to evaluate and find out who our best players are,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said. “We have a long way to go right now. We are hot and cold. It looks really good and then it doesn’t.”
That’s not unusual for the first scrimmage of fall practice, especially in a year when UNT is trying to work in a few new players in key spots while building depth. The process is one the Mean Green’s coaching staff believes will be critical to its prospects this fall.
UNT offensive coordinator Mike Canales said he and the rest of the coaching staff have all the confidence in the world in a few of the top skill-position players.
Thompson is at the top of that list, along with UNT’s returning top three receivers: Brelan Chancellor, Ivan Delgado and Chris Bynes.
It’s the players who will back up those wide receivers, not to mention an inexperienced set of running backs, who are UNT’s main concern heading into its season opener at LSU on Sept. 1.
The competition among running backs Jeremy Brown, Brandin Byrd and Antoinne Jimmerson has been going on since spring.
What took on added significance Saturday was the play of UNT’s backup receivers, including freshmen Nick Schrapps and Carlos Harris.
Both are receiving extended playing time in practice and got a long look from UNT’s staff in the scrimmage.
“We are trying to force-feed them the offense right now. They have to be backups and they have to play,” Canales said. “They have to learn this offense. We just can’t play with those three kids [Chancellor, Delgado and Bynes]. They are all good Sun Belt Conference players, but we can’t play with just those three.”
Canales said UNT also is taking a long look at Darnell Smith, a walk-on from Ellsworth Community College in Iowa who is originally from Garland.
Redshirt freshman Chaz Sampson is also in the mix for playing time.
“Chaz Sampson has to step up,” Canales said. “We have been hard on him and have put him in a lot of different situations. He has to perform. It’s a make-or-break year for him. He has to decide whether he is going to be a contributor or not.”
Some of UNT’s older running backs are in a similar position, including Brown and Byrd, both of whom have played sparingly at UNT. Brown is a senior and Byrd a junior.
UNT has some talented young running backs joining Schrapps and Harris on the fast track in terms of their preparation for the season. But unlike the Mean Green’s freshman receivers, they could end up starting.
McCarney has raved about redshirt freshman Jimmerson since spring practice and continued to do so after Saturday’s scrimmage.
“Whenever we scrimmage, No. 22 shows up,” McCarney said. “He gets yards after contact and tough yards, drives the pile and makes guys miss. He did some good things today.”
Canales singled out Jimmerson and Brown when asked about how UNT’s running backs performed.
UNT’s coaches have said all along that they likely would play multiple running backs this season. So far, UNT’s players like the way the way that plan is working out.
“We have some good running backs coming back, some good freshmen and [converted defensive back Konockus] Sashington,” Brown said. “That depth will help us. It’s starting to come together.”
UNT working on huddle
UNT came out of its scrimmage looking to improve in one fundamental area — getting into the huddle, communicating effectively when there and then getting to the line of scrimmage.
Canales said UNT would huddle more this season and needs to work on the mechanics of the entire process.
“There were way too many discussions in the huddle,” McCarney said. “That means that they are unsure of what they are doing. We have to get that fixed.”
Dutton Watson, a freshman defensive lineman from Midland, injured his knee during the scrimmage but is not expected to need surgery, McCarney said. … Canales singled out four offensive linemen who have made significant progress during the early stages of fall practice: backup junior tackle LaChris Anyiam, freshman Connor Trussell, Arkansas transfer Cam Feldt and freshman walk-on Kaydon Kirby.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com.