North Texas has plenty of questions to answer heading into its annual spring game today at Apogee Stadium, none bigger than who will start at quarterback when the Mean Green opens the season at Texas.
Veteran backup Andrew McNulty and junior college transfer Josh Greer will enter the 2 p.m. scrimmage locked in what has dwindled to a two-man race that coach Dan McCarney and offensive coordinator Mike Canales anticipate turning into a marathon that will last into fall drills.
“Greer and McNulty have emerged in recent practices and scrimmages as the guys to beat out for that job,” McCarney said. “They are both students of the game. What you like in your quarterback position is every time you turn around they are in here on their own time, not when they asked to or forced to. Those two are the best when it comes to that at that position.”
Redshirt freshman Dajon Williams began spring drills competing with McNulty and Greer but has fallen out of the race for the job. Williams sprained his ankle in last Saturday’s scrimmage and may not play today in a key workout leading up to UNT’s Aug. 30 game against Texas.
Williams’ potential absence will leave McNulty and Greer with plenty of opportunities to shine in the final practice of the spring, when UNT has looked to build on one of the best seasons in program history. The Mean Green finished 9-4 in its third season under McCarney and toppled UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl for just its third bowl win.
“It is going to tell us where we are heading into the fall and what we need to work on as a defense and as a football team,” cornerback Zac Whitfield said of the spring game.
UNT’s first- and third-team players will form the Green team, which will be led by defensive line coach Kevin Patrick. The second- and fourth-team players will form the White team and be led by offensive line coach Mike Simmonds.
The White team will begin the game with a 21-point lead.
The quarterback race is just one of the areas where UNT will look to take a step forward today in the rebuilding process.
Senior linebacker Derek Akunne is the only player returning from UNT’s front seven on a defense that was one of the Mean Green’s strengths last season. UNT ranked eighth nationally with an average of 17.8 points allowed per game.
“We have had good days and bad days,” defensive coordinator John Skladany said. “We knew that was going to happen. We are a work in progress and have a lot of new faces. We are working hard and taking steps in the right direction. We have to keep cleaning up our fundamentals and work on reading our keys.”
Several young or inexperienced defensive players have shown that they could be a big part of UNT’s future during spring practice. Skladany said outside linebackers Sed Ellis and Jamal Marshall, middle linebacker Fred Scott, safety Freddie Warner and defensive lineman Malik Dilonga have caught his eye.
While UNT has several position battles going on and multiple questions to answer heading into the fall, there is little doubt that all eyes will be on the quarterback spot today. UNT lost three-year starter and Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP Derek Thompson to graduation and has spent the last several weeks working toward finding his replacement.
“Someone has got to step up and be the guy,” Canales said. “Each day it seems like someone takes the lead and the other guys take a step back. Eventually someone has to step up and say ‘I’m the guy.’ It will come.”
McCarney said he has been impressed with how quickly Greer has picked up UNT’s offense after transferring from Navarro College at the Christmas break. Greer’s development has given UNT two quarterbacks in the race for the starting job with a similar skill set.
“They both have good mobility and both probably move a little bit better than Thompson did,” McCarney said. “Neither has the experience D.T. did. They have solid arms, not rockets. They can make the throws we need them to make and have done a good job protecting the football. The quarterbacks who do that [protect the ball] will play for me; the ones who don’t won’t. They have done a good job overall making good decisions with the ball. I like the toughness of both.”
McNulty and Greer will have a chance to show that toughness and how much they have developed over the course of spring practice today in the spring game.
“We are still learning and getting better,” McNulty said earlier this spring. “Now that [Thompson] is gone, someone needs to step up and fill that spot.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.