Dan McCarney won’t get his first look at the players who will make up his third North Texas team until today — at least not when it comes to the official setting that spring practice provides.
The sneak peek that winter workouts offered UNT’s head coach has given him a good idea of what he will see, though, and he couldn’t be more excited.
“It looks different out here now,” McCarney said Tuesday during his pre-spring press conference at Apogee Stadium. “Just watching us out there, with the exception of the defensive line with all the injuries we have, there is no question it will be the most competitive spring we have had. There is no question there are a lot more guys who can play at this level. We will see what happens when we start executing our system and the pads come on.”
UNT is hoping that competition will help the Mean Green develop the type of team that can post a breakout season as the school’s athletic program makes the transition to Conference USA. UNT will play its first season in the league in the fall after 12 seasons in the Sun Belt Conference.
McCarney and his staff say UNT is in better position than in his first two seasons to post its first winning season since 2004 after a 4-8 finish in 2012.
That belief is due largely to a host of transfers, players coming off redshirt seasons and the development of a group of experienced players who are returning.
UNT has several newcomers listed on its two-deep depth chart, including safety Zed Evans, a Louisville transfer, defensive end Quenton Brown, who spent last season at Eastern Arizona College, and quarterback Brock Berglund.
McCarney acknowledged that the quarterback spot would be the most watched in the spring, thanks largely to the arrival of Berglund, who began his career at Kansas.
Berglund was rated 15th nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks by Rivals.com in the class of 2011.
Berglund and sophomore Andrew McNulty, who spent the 2012 season as a redshirt after breaking his hand, will compete with returning starter Derek Thompson.
Thompson, a senior, has started and served as a team captain during each of the last two years.
“I’m excited about the guys we have, with Derek as a two-year starter, Andrew coming off his injury and with Brock in the program,” UNT offensive coordinator Mike Canales said. “It’s an open competition.”
No matter how that competition turns out, McCarney and Canales anticipate that UNT’s offense will look dramatically different.
UNT has long featured a potent running game. McCarney doesn’t think that will change. What UNT is hoping is that the added talent it has brought in will allow it to use the quarterback run and deep passing games more.
Thompson has lost 15 pounds in hopes of improving his speed to prepare for the change. He is listed at 220 pounds on UNT’s depth chart. Canales said that Berglund has improved his strength during the offseason, while McNulty has put on eight pounds to get to 202.
“Derek has changed who he is,” Canales said. “Last year, we asked him to bulk up because of what we were trying to do offensively. We knew he was going to take some shots. Now we have asked him to lose some weight so we can use a little more of the quarterback run game. We are going to do some of the same things we did the first couple of years I was here.”
UNT averaged just 20.9 points a game last season and struggled in the red zone, where it scored touchdowns on 21 of 42 possessions.
“If I was a defensive coordinator going against North Texas, I wouldn’t have worried about quarterback scrambles, counters, draws or the option,” McCarney said. “That reduces what a coordinator has to get ready for. If we can add that, along with a good throwing game and a really good running game, which we have shown that we have, we will be better.”
While UNT is hoping a few new wrinkles will make it more effective on offense, it’s the familiarity the Mean Green will have on defense that could be its biggest asset.
UNT’s defense will spend its second spring under coordinator John Skladany, which will be a new experience. Skladany was UNT’s third defensive coordinator in three seasons in 2012, when he took over for Clint Bowen.
“What we are doing is similar to what Clint had done, but it’s still different,” Skladany said. “That is still tough on kids. You are better if you stay in a system year after year. You see the same things, are being coached the same and if you see something go wrong, you know how to fix it right away.”
While McCarney hasn’t seen much yet, he’s seen enough to be confident that UNT has a chance to be much better in its first season in C-USA.
UNT will have 108 players on its roster for spring practice, up from 78 last year. … UNT had 45 players post at least a 3.0 grade-point average last semester, a mark McCarney said is the best he has seen in his time as a college coach. … TE Marcus Smith, RB Konockus Sashington, CB Freddie Warner, DE Brad Horton, DT Dylan McDorman, DT Ryan Boutwell, DE Daryl Mason and DE Brandon McCoy will miss spring practice or will be very limited while recovering from injuries. … Jamal Marshall has moved to outside linebacker from defensive back, Rex Rollins has moved to running back from defensive back and Jerrian Roberts to defensive end from linebacker.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .