Cyril Lemon fully expects to line up in his familiar spot at right guard when North Texas heads to Austin to face Texas in a few months.
Lemon has been a standout there for years. It’s where he earned first-team All-Conference USA honors last season and where head coach Dan McCarney thinks he might have a chance to continue his career in the NFL.
For now, Lemon is on the move.
The senior is tackling the challenge of playing tackle — a move UNT made out of necessity that could end up benefiting Lemon in the long run.
“It’s helping keep me on my toes,” Lemon said. “Playing one position your whole career can make you stagnant. When you move to somewhere else, it helps you athletically. It will help me in the future. It could help prepare me for the NFL. It shows my versatility. I will have the techniques tackles use when I move back inside to guard.”
UNT lost starting tackle LaChris Anyiam to graduation after last season and is without Antonio Johnson this spring while he continues to recover from lingering injury issues.
Lemon is a monster of a man at 6-3 and 304 pounds, but he has shown the foot speed and quickness to play on the edge. He started at right tackle a year ago against Georgia and Tulane.
That ability is one of the reasons NFL.com named Lemon one of C-USA’s top NFL prospects among underclassmen heading into the 2013 season.
The time Lemon is spending at tackle while improving his speed and quickness is only helping his development.
“There is no question it helps him to play on the edge a little,” McCarney said. “You see guys with speed and are not just blocking guys who look like hotels and are maulers on the inside. It’s good for his development and overall game.”
Perhaps the best aspect of Lemon’s versatility is that it has allowed the Mean Green to maintain a solid front during a spring in which it is going through a host of changes at skill positions, most notably at quarterback.
UNT lost three-year starter Derek Thompson to graduation after a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Lemon has helped the Mean Green’s front protect Andrew McNulty, Josh Greer and Dajon Williams as they compete to take over the starting job.
UNT would prefer that all three focus on learning what they have to do to guide its offense rather than spend the spring running for their lives.
Lemon is helping ensure that is the case.
“Cyril is a good enough athlete to get it done out there and knows the position well enough,” said Mason Y’Barbo, UNT’s other starting guard. “He has played it in the past.”
Lemon is just getting a little better at it this spring out of necessity while improving his abilities as a player.
Y’Barbo credited UNT’s solid performance along its offensive front this spring to the chemistry the team’s veteran linemen have developed over the years. Y’Barbo has started 37 games, while Lemon has started 36. Center Kaydon Kirby is headed into his second season as a starter.
All three are expected to be back in their familiar spots this fall, when Lemon could be even better after facing the challenge of playing on the edge in the spring.
“I like playing tackle,” Lemon said. “It’s just another position and something I am ready to do for the good of the team. It’s no different than being inside at guard. I played there a little in the season. I know the spot.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.