Brandon McCoy spent a lot of time in front of the television in the offseason. Only he wasn’t watching his favorite sitcom.
The North Texas junior was studying the best pass rushers he could find highlights of in an effort to pick up tricks that could help him this fall when he will once again be a starter — and part of a rotation at defensive end that the Mean Green hopes will bolster its pass rush.
UNT head coach Dan McCarney said that the plan is to leave McCoy where he’s at in the starting lineup and rotate Aaron Bellazin and K.C. Obi in with him at the two defensive end spots. Daryl Mason is just behind that trio, giving the Mean Green a few options.
UNT will continue evaluating those options this morning during its final full scrimmage before its Sept. 1 season opener against top-ranked LSU in Baton Rouge, La.
The closed workout at Apogee Stadium that will last approximately 100 plays will be an important one for a host of players trying to nail down starting jobs, spots on the depth chart and the travel roster.
“This is really important,” McCoy said. “LSU is right around the corner and this is our last full scrimmage. This is going to be game-like. It will prepare us for a game and what will happen in the next two weeks. LSU is close; this is going to be our last game-like experience before then.”
One of the questions UNT faces heading into its season opener is how it will go about replacing Brandon Akpunku, one of its most productive defensive players from a year ago. Akpunku played on the opposite side from McCoy and led the Mean Green in sacks (7 1/2) and tackles for loss (10).
“We treat all three as starters,” McCarney said of McCoy, Bellazin and Obi. “That is what you want — competition. Mason missed a couple of days but is back now. He has to be a guy who can get into the mix, because I don’t want to leave two defensive ends out there and have their tongues dragging in the third and fourth quarter when they are getting worn out, beaten up and outplayed. That is why we have to build depth. I want to play seven or eight defensive linemen every game.”
McCoy will be at the top of that rotation in his second full season as a starter. The former U.S. Army soldier moved back and forth between defensive tackle and defensive end before settling in at end last season, when he posted 4 1/2 sacks and 7 1/2 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
McCoy said he believes he can improve on those totals and help UNT’s defensive line be more productive overall, thanks to putting in time studying other players during the offseason.
“We have all gotten so much better in pass rush, including me,” McCoy said. “I watched a lot of tape of A.K. [Akpunku] and other defensive ends. I am using different techniques to get to the quarterback. A.K. had 7 1/2 last sacks year. We should have three ends with that number this year.”
McCoy and the rest of UNT’s ends have embraced the idea of rotating and are confident in their ability to improve the team’s pass rush.
“We have a solid group at defensive end with Bellazin, Sarge [McCoy] and Mason, who is starting to come through,” Obi said. “I’m there, too. We should be solid.
“We are going to rotate. That will be good. It will keep us fresh.”
Mason has been battling a knee injury that has kept him off the field for part of fall practice, but he is expected to be ready for UNT’s season opener.
UNT is hoping its new defensive line rotation will help the Mean Green make a few more plays up front this season.
McCarney has built a reputation as one of the best defensive line coaches in the country throughout his career. Coaching defensive linemen was part of McCarney’s job description in every assistant job he held since initially coaching the offensive line at Iowa in 1977 and ’78.
He has since coached the defensive lines at Iowa, Wisconsin, South Florida and Florida. The only time he hasn’t been a defensive line coach is during his two stints as a head coach, first at Iowa State and then at UNT.
Along the way, McCarney has developed a deep appreciation for the impact a defensive line can have on a game. He is hoping to build that same type of outstanding line at UNT.
“We need those guys to go make plays,” McCarney said. “We have to change the line of scrimmage. I want to see tackles, forced fumbles, tipped passes, tackles for loss and blocked kicks on special teams. That is what good defensive lines do. They show up and make plays.”
UNT lost one of its biggest playmakers up front in Akpunku after last season. The Mean Green will continue the process of developing a multiplayer rotation they hope will fill that void today.
BRETT VITO can be reached 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com.