The 2020 season was a tough one for North Texas defensively, particularly for its linebackers.
The unit was hit harder by the coronavirus pandemic than any other position group on UNT's roster. UNT's game against Houston was canceled after the number of infections among its linebackers and subsequent contact tracing issues left the Mean Green without enough players at the position to play.
UNT was also without starters KD Davis and Tyreke Davis for a loss to rival SMU due to virus concerns. Tyreke Davis ended up missing four games, partly due to a false positive test.
UNT was so desperate for help, it moved H-back Kyleb Howell to linebacker, where he played in high school. To his credit, Howell came through in a big way and finished with 30 tackles on the year.
When all was said and done, KD Davis led UNT with 75 tackles in nine games on his way to earning honorable mention All-Conference USA honors. Larry Nixon III added 53 stops, Kevin Wood 48, and Tyreke Davis 34.
UNT will have all of its key linebackers back in 2021 and will hope it can keep them healthy as it looks to take a dramatic step forward after allowing 42.8 points per game last season.
Here's a look where UNT stands at the position in our ongoing look at the Mean Green's roster on a position-by-position basis.
Key returners: Tyreke Davis, Sr.; Kevin Wood, So.; Jordan Brown, Fr.; KD Davis, Jr.; Larry Nixon III, So.; Kyleb Howell, Sr; Taylor Jacobs, Rfr.; Jacobi Johnson, Fr.; Silakivai Carmicheal, So.
Key losses: Chris Thornton
Key newcomers: Carson Kropp, So.; Willie Simmons, Fr.
Biggest unanswered question: UNT will be under the direction of new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett in the fall. Veteran assistant Jim Gush took over as linebackers coach following an offseason overhaul of Seth Littrell's defensive staff.
Bennett is moving UNT from a 3-3-5 scheme to a multiple-front concept.
What one has to wonder is how UNT's returning players will fit into the new scheme and if Oklahoma State transfer Carson Kropp will figure in right away.
Why 2021 production could be better: One would assume UNT will be healthier at linebacker in 2021 than it was in 2020, when nothing seemed to go right.
There is also a chance that Bennett and Gush will be able to get more out of the players in the program. The fact those players will have been in UNT's strength program another year won't hurt matters.
Why 2021 production could be worse: There is a pretty good chance UNT will roll out largely the same lineup at linebacker that it had last season in new scheme.
There will be an adjustment period. And there is no telling if the players UNT has will be a fit for the scheme Bennett wants to run.
The Mean Green could struggle early. Considering UNT's schedule is loaded with tough games in the opening weeks of the season, that could be an issue.
Overall outlook: UNT has some solid players in its linebacker core, beginning with the veteran duo of KD Davis and Tyreke Davis.
Both have made a ton of plays for UNT over the years. They will give Bennett a good base to build from as he installs his scheme.
The Mean Green have also brought in some promising players in their last few recruiting classes, including Jordan Brown and Jacobi Johnson. Those players have been at UNT long enough now to settle in and could be ready to emerge this fall.
Seeing how those players fit in Bennett's scheme will be a key storyline of the offseason for UNT.
Here’s our series so far:
Quarterbacks — Ruder joins fray as UNT’s situation improves from a year ago
Running backs — UNT poised to thrive in running game behind Torrey, Adaway
Wide receivers, tight ends — UNT has plenty of talent after losing all-time great in Darden
Offensive line — Mean Green aim to build on promising season
Defensive line — Novil returns to anchor defensive front