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UNT post-spring issues No. 3 -- Will the losses in the front seven hurt?

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

North Texas coach Seth Littrell and defensive coordinator Troy Reffett left little doubt about what they believe will be one of the Mean Green's biggest strengths heading into the 2017 season.

Both are that confident in UNT's defensive line.

UNT has Kansas State transfer Bryce English to anchor the middle of its front. Roderick Young has star potential at defensive end and the Mean Green have a host of productive backups ready to step into the starting lineup, including linebackers Brandon Garner and E.J. Ejiya, defensive ends Andy Flusche and LaDarius Hamilton and defensive tackle T.J. Tauaalo.

There is a lot to like as far as the personnel UNT has.

But that doesn't mean there aren't also a host of questions about how that unit will come together in Littrell's second season.

UNT lost several of its most experienced and productive players from its front seven after last season. How UNT fares in replacing them comes in at No. 3 on our list of issues the Mean Green face coming out of spring practice.

UNT lost its second-leading tackler in Cortney Finney (78 tackles) and the player who finished fifth in Fred Scott (55 tackles). Jareid Combs, Malik Dilonga and Jarian Roberts all graduated after combining to start every game last season at the two defensive end spots. 

Reffett believes that UNT has players better fitted for his 3-3-5 scheme, especially along its defensive front.

"We are two deep with quality players who are better suited to what we want to do than the guys we had last year just because they are a little thicker and stronger," Reffett said. "What they bring to the table really fits the scheme better. They don't have experience the guys did last year, but experience only takes you so far. You still have to have the bodies with the right makeup."

The question is if those players can step in and be productive right away, despite having less experience than the players they are replacing.

Young is moving to a new position, while English will play extensively for the first time in his college career this fall. Andy Flusche will likely start at defensive end, while converted linebacker LaDarius Hamilton will also see extensive playing time.

None have the experience Combs, Dilonga and Roberts had by the end of their senior seasons.

Joshua Wheeler and Calvin Minor combined to start every game at the Jack linebacker spot. UNT will be fine there. Garner and Ejiya both played extensively at linebacker last season, which will help.

How they fare as starters is in question.

Keeping both Garner and Ejiya healthy will also be a key issue. Reffett named depth at linebacker one of UNT's biggest concerns. 

UNT lost Scott for four games last season, but didn't miss a beat then Garner stepped in. The Mean Green won't have a proven player like Garner sitting second on the depth chart if either Garner or Ejiya misses time.

Here is our list of UNT's key concerns following spring practice so far:

1. What is the situation at quarterback?

2. Will the offensive line be an issue?