The makeup of North Texas’ defensive line continued to change this week as the Mean Green prepared for its first full-blown scrimmage of spring practice today.
UNT knew heading into spring drills that it would be without four defensive linemen listed on its depth chart and found out this week that it will be without one of those players permanently. Redshirt freshman tackle Dylan McDorman and UNT’s staff came to the realization that he would be unable to continue his college career due to shoulder injuries.
The loss of McDorman, who never played a down for UNT, was the latest adjustment to a depth chart that already is looking much different than it did at the beginning of spring practice a few days ago. UNT is short at defensive end as well as tackle and is taking a hard look at using linebacker Chad Polk at defensive end — at least as a situational pass rusher and possibly as a regular player in the rotation.
UNT’s staff will get a long look at some of the players who could fill vital roles, not only on the defensive line but throughout the rest of its lineup, beginning at 9 a.m. today at Apogee Stadium. The Mean Green will run approximately 100 plays in a situational scrimmage that will have its first-, second- and third-team offenses and defenses facing off.
“When you get in the stadium with the officials and the pregame warmup, it’s line up and let’s go,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said. “Who makes plays and who doesn’t? Who rises to the top? Who is out there playing for 55 plays and never makes a play? There is a lot of evaluation to be done, and with a team with as many new faces as this one, it’s really important.”
UNT’s defensive line was going to be a concern heading into spring practice due to the amount of injured players. Starting defensive end Brandon McCoy, starting tackle Ryan Boutwell and backup defensive end Daryl Mason are either out or severely limited for spring drills due to lingering injuries from last season. McDorman was on the list of players who would be limited during spring practice, but he decided in the last few days to give up football.
McDorman had shoulder surgery in high school and had another procedure after arriving at UNT.
“It just got to be too much,” McCarney said. “He is going to stay and finish his degree, hopefully here. He hasn’t made that decision yet. He is through with football, though.”
UNT has two experienced defensive tackles returning from last season in converted defensive end Alexander Lincoln and Richard Abbe. Lincoln finished with 15 tackles last season while Abbe posted 13.
Sophomore Austin Orr and redshirt freshman Dutton Watson will now have an even bigger opportunity — not to mention more pressure — to establish themselves in UNT’s tackle rotation.
Sydrick Moore was the only defensive tackle UNT signed in its 2013 recruiting class and could have an opportunity to contribute right away with McDorman leaving the program.
UNT will make finding defensive linemen a priority in its next recruiting class, which will be nothing new.
“It is always a priority to sign defensive tackles,” McCarney said. “It is one of the hardest positions to recruit all the years that I have been in it. Finding big, physical, athletic guys who can play in the defensive line is hard. They are at a premium. Everyone wants them. There are a lot more wide receivers and defensive backs than there are defensive linemen.”
UNT is trying to create some help for its defensive front by moving Polk to end. The sophomore was listed as a backup behind middle linebacker Zach Orr heading into spring practice.
Zach Orr is one of UNT’s top players and has led the Mean Green in tackles the last two seasons. Polk is unlikely to displace Zach Orr, but he could have a role on the Mean Green’s defensive line, even though he would be undersized for the position at 6-feet and 226 pounds.
“We have a speed team and are trying to get some speed on the field,“ McCarney said. “We did the same thing at Florida. Right now we are going to take a look at Polk at defensive end on that team. We are also taking a look at him there with his hand down. He has some speed. We are getting thin there. If you don’t have great height and size, you had better have everything else — a good motor, good pad level and a low center of gravity.”
Polk has those attributes, which could allow him to become the latest undersized end to find a role at UNT. K.C. Obi, who was listed at 6-2 and 251, led UNT with 5 1/2 sacks last season. Brandon Akpunku, 6-1 and 240, posted 17 sacks from 2008-11.
The development of its defensive line is just one storyline for UNT heading into its first Saturday scrimmage of the spring. The Mean Green’s quarterbacks also will be in the spotlight. Returning starter Derek Thompson has been competing with highly regarded transfer Brock Berglund and backup Andrew McNulty throughout the team’s first six workouts.
All three quarterbacks have been rotating with the first, second and third teams in a spring during which UNT’s coaches have vowed to diversify their offensive game plan. UNT has put added emphasis on the quarterback run and the vertical passing games.
UNT will see how its quarterbacks fit into those plans and how its defensive line is progressing today in a workout McCarney said could greatly impact the depth chart.
The message is one his players have heard.
“I am always looking forward to that next scrimmage,” UNT offensive lineman LaChris Anyiam said. “This is going to be a big one, because spots can change at any time.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.