Dan McCarney has the best seat in the house during scrimmages when it comes to seeing how North Texas’ defense performs.
UNT’s head coach stands right behind his quarterback, where he can see up close every move the Mean Green defense makes.
McCarney liked what he saw during UNT’s final Saturday scrimmage before next week’s spring game.
UNT’s defense controlled the scrimmage most of the way, a development McCarney and his players saw as a sign the Mean Green is beginning to adjust after losing several key players from one of the best units in recent program history.
“This is one of the better scrimmages we have had defensively,” UNT defensive lineman Alexander Lincoln said. “We were running to the ball and playing with energy.”
That approach is what helped make UNT one of the best defensive teams in the country last season, when the Mean Green ranked eighth nationally in points allowed at 17.8 per game.
One of the biggest questions UNT faced heading into spring practice was how it would approach replacing a host of key players who made the Mean Green so effective, including linebacker Zach Orr and safety Marcus Trice, a pair of first-team All-Conference USA selections.
UNT’s approach under coordinator John Skadany has been to not try to do too much, especially early on.
“We are not doing a lot this spring, which is what we needed to do,” McCarney said. “We need to learn how to play football, play our system and our defense without a lot of calls. John has kept it really basic. The guys are learning how to play, which is the most important thing.”
UNT’s defense gave up just a field goal until the late stages of the scrimmage when Andrew McNulty led a 10-play, 90-yard drive he capped with a perfectly placed pass in the middle of the end zone to wide receiver Darius Terrell. The junior later capped a six-play, 60-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.
Junior college transfer Josh Greer and redshirt freshman Dajon Williams — the other players competing for the starting quarterback job — also had their moments.
Greer hit Terrell for a 23-yard touchdown, while Williams picked up four first downs on a drive with the second-team offense that started at the 10-yard line and didn’t stall out until UNT had moved 54 yards.
The fact that UNT’s defense held for most of the day was all the more impressive considering the Mean Green has been missing several of its key defensive backs throughout the spring.
Starting cornerback James Jones is out for the spring after undergoing surgery to address a non-football related medical issue. Starting safety Lairamie Lee and backup cornerback Chad Davis also missed the scrimmage because of injury.
“Those are valuable guys,” McCarney said. “It’s hard to measure your defense without them.”
The players who stepped in fared well for the most part.
“The young guys are getting more comfortable in there,” linebacker Derek Akunne said. “It’s still a work in progress.”
McCarney could see some progress from where he was standing.
“Overall we did some good things,” McCarney said. “We are starting to get more good hits and tackles for loss. We are playing faster and are more confident in what we are doing.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.