When Josh Greer entered the race for the starting quarterback job at North Texas in December, the former Navarro College standout did so with a lot of ground to make up.
Greer knew it. So did coach Dan McCarney and offensive coordinator Mike Canales.
Trailing was just part of the deal when Greer signed with the Mean Green at the Christmas break and entered a competition that included junior Andrew McNulty and highly regarded redshirt freshman Dajon Williams.
McNulty had a three-year head start on Greer, while Williams had been around for a season.
Greer didn’t back down and gave the Mean Green’s coaching staff a lot to think about during UNT’s Green/White spring game on Saturday, when the White team hung on for a 35-31 win over the Green in front of a crowd of 5,235.
Greer didn’t run away with the job but didn’t lose it either while competing with McNulty. Williams sat out with a sprained ankle, while freshman Connor Means, who dropped out of the race earlier in the spring, showed signs of a promising future.
The Green team consisted of UNT’s first- and third-team players, while the White team featured members of the second and fourth teams. The White team started with a 21-point lead.
“Greer and McNulty did some positive things today,” McCarney said. “They just missed on some throws we would like to have. I like the way both those guys competed today. Rarely did we have a mental error out there by the quarterback, which I am looking for. We have to get Dajon back. Means did some good things against our No. 1 defense. The race is on. Who is going to be our best guy? We are not even close to making a decision.”
Greer finished 10-for-16 for 152 yards and had perhaps his best moment when he rolled to the outside, found tight end Jarrod Lynn open deep and lofted a perfect strike for a 58-yard gain.
McNulty had his moments as well while completing 15 of 24 attempts for 217 yards. The Iowa native went 5-for-5 on a 90-yard drive, including a 6-yard strike to wide receiver Carlos Harris.
“I think I did well,” Greer said. “Learning a new offense is difficult. I tried to knock all of that out before the spring so I could just come in and play. I definitely came a long way.”
How far is what impressed Canales.
“Greer is so far ahead of where he was, it’s amazing,” Canales said. “I can go out there and call anything. That’s a great sign since he hasn’t been here that long.”
UNT wanted to take a look at all of its options at quarterback this spring after losing three-year starter and Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP Derek Thompson to graduation. McCarney looked at where his team was a year ago and saw some similarities to where the Mean Green stands now in terms of the quarterback race.
“We have a really good example of how we can win last year with Derek Thompson, whom not a lot of people said positive things about,” McCarney said. “All he did was lead us to a bowl championship. This time last year he didn’t look like Fran Tarkenton or Brett Favre. I want all these guys to keep the edge, never be satisfied and find a way to go have a really good season.”
Thompson didn’t win the job until the days leading up to UNT’s season-opening game against Idaho.
UNT enters this summer heading down a similar road.
“I fully expect the battle to go through the summer and into fall camp,” Greer said. “No one really stood out as the full-time starter this spring. Someone has to step up, which is what I am trying to do.”
While the quarterback battle drew most of the attention in the spring game, there were a few other players who shined.
Antoinne Jimmerson, the heir apparent to starting running back Brandin Byrd, rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns for the Green team. Harris caught nine passes for 86 yards, while Darius Terrell added three catches for 74 yards.
Jimmerson, Harris and Terrell are projected to start in 2014 and played key roles last season.
What was particularly encouraging for UNT were the flashes of potential shown by some of its younger players, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Sed Ellis returned a fumble 57 yards for a touchdown, while defensive end Jarrian Roberts sacked McNulty on the first series of the game and was in the backfield throughout the day.
The pair of sophomores could play major roles next season, when UNT will have to replace all but one member of a front seven that helped the Mean Green finish eighth nationally in scoring defense with an average of 17.8 points allowed per game. Redshirt freshman linebacker Calvin Minor showed signs of developing into an impact player.
“It’s time to pick it up from where we left off last year,” Roberts said. “The pressure that we got was a good sign. Our job is to get after the quarterback.”
UNT’s biggest question heading into spring practice was who its quarterback will be when it kicks off the season at Texas.
A solid spring from Greer was just one reason the Mean Green has yet to answer that question as it heads into the summer.
“Those guys are working and are getting better every day, every week,” Jimmerson said. “Each scrimmage they got better. They are going to keep competing until we go and play Texas. We will figure out who is going to be the starter. I have confidence in both of them.”
Walk-ons receive scholarships
UNT put five walk-ons on scholarship following the spring game. The group includes Lynn, wide receiver John Chelf, kicker Zach Paul, defensive back Sheldon Wade and long snapper Tony Johnson.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.