Football: Offensive line battle heats up at final scrimmage

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The final major scrimmage of fall practice came and went for North Texas on Saturday, with a host of questions still looming, including the biggest one of them all.

UNT still doesn’t know who will start at quarterback.

Andrew McNulty and Josh Greer split time again over the course of a 108-play workout at the Darrell R. Dickey Football Practice Facility. Coach Dan McCarney said he liked what he saw from both of his quarterbacks, but isn’t ready to make a decision on who will start when the Mean Green faces Texas in its season opener on Aug. 30.

“We are rotating the same two,” McCarney said. “[Offensive coordinator] Mike Canales did a good job again today getting those guys in lots of situations.

“We want to see who will step up and make plays. Both quarterbacks did some really solid things again today. We will continue to evaluate them.”

The race between McNulty and Greer has been the overriding storyline ever since UNT opened spring practice months ago. That competition has overshadowed a few other key battles. Another key question is who will be UNT’s fifth starter on an offensive line that was one of the Mean Green’s strengths last season.

UNT has two preseason All-Conference USA guards in Cyril Lemon and Mason Y’Barbo, not to mention tackle Antonio Johnson and center Kaydon Kirby, returning.

What it doesn’t have — at least not yet — is a definitive plan on how to replace right tackle LaChris Anyiam.

Shawn McKinney and Ryan Rentfro have battled for the right to move into the starting lineup since spring practice. The way both have progressed has kept that competition alive heading into the late stages of fall drills.

UNT has narrowed its options. UNT could move McKinney into Lemon’s spot at right guard, which would allow Lemon to move to right tackle. The other option is to move Rentfro into Anyiam’s spot at tackle and leave Lemon at his best position.

Lemon has played both guard and tackle this fall.

“When coach told me that I had a chance to start, I realized what a tremendous opportunity it is,” McKinney said. “I have to take advantage of that and do the best I can to be the fifth guy.”

McCarney said he can see the impact the opportunity additional playing time has made on both McKinney and Rentfro. McKinney’s nickname “Snacks” has stuck with him since his days at Trinity Valley Community College, but a lot of the extra weight he had been carrying has vanished.

McKinney now weighs 350 pounds, down from 385 two years ago.

“It’s been a process,” McKinney said. “I have gone up and down. Frank Wintrich is a tremendous strength coach. He worked with me and showed me what to buy to eat. It has been a plus.

“I feel way lighter this offseason.”

The difference is obvious to McCarney.

“McKinney is in the best shape since he came to North Texas,” McCarney said. “He is hungry and a senior who does not want to be a role guy off the bench. He wants to be one of the five and stand out there shoulder-to-shoulder with those other four guys who have given us so much. I am really proud of him. He has really improved.”

McKinney started two games at guard last season and has taken more snaps with UNT’s first-team offense, but has not secured a starting job, largely because of Rentfro’s progress.

“Rentfro is one of the smartest offensive linemen we have,” McCarney said. “He could play any of the five positions from a mental standpoint. He is getting better and better. His pass protection has really improved and his run blocking has gotten better. ”

Whoever wins the starting job will be in a good position because of the four starting linemen, who are already secure in their roles as starters.

“Anyone could play next to Cyril, Antonio, Mason or Kaydon,” Rentfro said. “You are going to feel comfortable because those guys have so much experience.”

McCarney believes in rotating players to keep them fresh and motivated. Both McKinney and Rentfro will play.

It’s the opportunity to play more that has McKinney and Rentfro excited.

“No one wants to sit on the bench,” Rentfro said. “The opportunity to start has motivated me to work harder and try to be the best I can be every day.”

That work should pay off for UNT down the line no matter who ends up being the Mean Green’s fifth starting offensive lineman.

“It’s a good battle,” McCarney said. “We feel good with either guy.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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