North Texas looked like it might be in trouble early last season when it came to its wide receivers, a group that was expected to be one of the Mean Green’s strengths.
UNT lost starters Jyaire Shorter and Tommy Bush to season-ending injuries by the third week of the season. Deonte Simpson dealt with injury issues early in the year and was later dismissed due to a violation of team rules after playing in three games.
Those three players were expected to be among the Mean Green’s most productive receivers.
UNT was forced to adjust and performed well considering the circumstances.
Roderic Burns came through by catching 58 passes for 802 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Mean Green.
Tight end Jason Pirtle was productive in his senior season and finished with 41 catches for 380 yards.
Detraveon Brown showed flashes of potential and caught a 58-yard strike from Austin Aune that set up Ethan Mooney’s 27-yard game-winning field goal in a thriller against UTEP.
The hope is UNT will be dramatically better at wide receiver this season. The Mean Green will need to be if they want to break through for the elusive bowl win they have been chasing since beating UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at the end of the 2013 season.
UNT has played in five bowl games under coach Seth Littrell and dropped them all.
The Mean Green have always wanted to “let it fly” under Littrell.
Here’s a look at UNT’s wide receivers, who will have to play a key role if the Mean Green are to do so effectively.
Key returnees: WR Roderic Burns (Jr., 5-10, 192), WR Bryson Jackson (Jr., 6-0, 188), WR Detraveon Brown (So., 6-2, 194), WR Tommy Bush (Jr., 6-5, 199), WR Jyaire Shorter (Jr., 6-2, 210), WR Khatib Lyles (So., 6-2, 205), WR Dorian Morris (So., 5-10, 187), WR Caleb Johnson (Rfr., 6-0, 188), WR Evan Greene (Rfr., 6-0, 188), WR Zhighlil McMillan (Rfr., 6-1, 198), WR Richard Rocquemore (WR 6-0, 198), WR Damon Ward (So,, 6-0, 198), TE Var’Keyes Gumms (Rfr., 6-3, 230) TE Xzavior Kautai (Rfr., 6-2, 235), TE Christian Lee (So., 6-3, 226), TE Jake Roberts (So., 6-4, 248), TE Asher Alberding (So., 6-4, 252)
Key losses: TE Jason Pirtle (graduation), Deonte Simpson (dismissed from team last season)
Newcomers: Jay Maclin (Rfr., 5-11, 185)
Biggest unanswered question: Can UNT’s top players fulfill their potential?
UNT has a host of highly regarded wide receivers on its roster. Shorter looked like a star in the making when he caught nine touchdown passes and earned honorable mention All-Conference USA honors as a redshirt freshman in 2019.
Injuries have cut each of Shorter’s last two seasons short. Bush looked like he could be a difference-maker early but was lost for the season after going down for the year in a week two loss to SMU.
Both Shorter and Bush have the potential to dramatically upgrade UNT’s passing game.
Missouri transfer Jay Maclin gives the Mean Green another intriguing option.
UNT will have a whole lot more weapons if those players come through.
Why 2022 production could be better: It’s hard to imagine UNT having another run of injuries take out its top wide receivers again next season.
Shorter has been a difference-maker when healthy. Bush was an elite recruit and started out at Georgia before transferring to UNT.
Getting that duo on the field with all of the other talented players UNT has on the roster would make the Mean Green dangerous. Burns had to fill in as UNT’s No. 1 wide receiver last season.
The Mean Green’s offense looks a whole lot different with him as a No. 3 or No. 4 option.
The experience Burns and some talented young players like Brown gained last season will pay off for UNT this fall.
Why 2022 production could be worse: UNT has a host of players with promise but is severely lacking when it comes to wide receivers who have proven their value on the field in the last few years.
Shorter hasn’t really produced since his redshirt freshman season back in 2019. Bush has never proven that can live up to his billing as one of the top-ranked high school wide receivers in the class of 2018.
Brown has a lot of potential but had just eight catches last season. Damon Ward (21 catches for 311 yards) and Bryson Jackson (12 catches for 176 yards) have proven to be serviceable but have not established themselves as anything beyond that.
Burns is the only receiver UNT has who has proven himself recently. The odds are some of the Mean Green’s other players will come through, but there is no guarantee that will be the case.
UNT will be in trouble if it doesn’t add playmakers around Burns.
Overall outlook: Littrell lamented UNT’s lack of explosive power on offense last season on more than one occasion.
The Mean Green just didn’t have the dynamic players at wide receiver to run by anyone. UNT turned to the running game and rode a group of solid backs and a stout offensive line during a season-saving five-game winning streak that landed it in the postseason.
UNT’s hopes to upgrade its passing game will depend on a few factors, including quarterback play. What is of little doubt is the Mean Green need to be better at wide receiver.
The most likely scenario for UNT reaching that goal is Shorter and Bush return to form and Maclin lives up to the potential that made him an SEC-level recruit. Seeing that happen is well within the realm of possibility for UNT.
The Mean Green could struggle to finish over .500 if they aren’t better at receiver in 2022.
Here’s a look back at our annual UNT position preview series: