UNT fall practice opener

Expectations are high heading into Seth Littrell's fourth season at North Texas. This could be the year the Mean Green crack the 10-win mark.

Offensive lineman D’Andre Plantin has been intrigued by what he has seen from the young players on North Texas’ roster so far in fall practice.

He isn’t the only one.

Coach Seth Littrell is also curious to see what some of the team’s highly regarded newcomers have to offer.

Both will have their best chance yet on Saturday when the Mean Green hold their first full scrimmage of the fall at Apogee Stadium. The closed workout will include between 75 and 100 plays with 35 to 40 featuring starters.

How many of UNT’s freshmen and other young players see significant time could be the most intriguing aspect of the workout.

“We have a lot of new faces,” Plantin said. “We will get to see what those guys have.”

UNT will see if any of those newcomers can help it live up to expectations in the process. The Mean Green have been picked to win Conference USA’s West Division in the league’s preseason media poll and are widely expected to make a run at a fourth straight bowl appearance this fall.

The reasons are obvious. Senior quarterback Mason Fine is C-USA’s preseason offensive player of the year and one of the Mean Green’s 13 returning starters.

One of the big questions for UNT is if it can plug a few key holes in its lineup and build on a 9-4 season. There are plenty of veteran players who have made their case to move into larger roles.

Saturday’s workout will be an opportunity for some of UNT’s younger players to show what they have to offer. The workout will be the most game-like atmosphere so far this fall.

The fact the Mean Green’s spring game was canceled due to weather only adds to the importance of the scrimmage. UNT has two full scrimmages scheduled for the fall.

“I want to see how we execute,” Littrell said. “We are playing fast and hard. It has slowed down for some of the veteran guys. Some of the young guys are playing hard but still making a lot of mistakes.”

Saturday’s workout will be those players’ chance to correct those mistakes and carve out a role.

“Some of the young guys are going to get a lot of reps,” Littrell said. “I want to see where they are at coming into the season.”

Several have shown they can contribute early on. Wide receiver Jyaire Shorter and linebacker Kevin Wood have been among the freshmen who have made an impression.

Saturday’s scrimmage could also play a role in how several position battles play out.

Shorter is making a run at a spot in UNT’s wide receiver rotation, while Wood could earn a spot on the Mean Green’s depth chart if he continues to play well.

The race for UNT’s backup quarterback job will also take center stage on Saturday. Former Argyle standout Austin Aune and Jason Bean have battled throughout fall camp for the right to back up Fine.

“I feel good about our quarterback position in the future,” Littrell said, “We have to get those guys live reps.

“The more they play, the more confident they will get.”

Aune and Bean will continue to receive opportunities to prove themselves throughout the preseason and into the fall. UNT lost Fine in the early stages of a 52-13 loss to Utah State in the New Mexico Bowl last season and struggled the rest of the way.

The Mean Green want to be more prepared if Fine goes down this season.

Opportunities will be tougher to come by for some of UNT’s other young players if they don’t show they can help the team in the Mean Green’s scrimmage.

UNT is quickly running through its fall camp and will soon turn its attention to ACU.

“This is their opportunity to prove to coaches and teammates that our units are better when they are in there,” Littrell said of UNT’s unproven players. “It’s really important for those guys to do the things they need to do off the field so that they can execute on the field.”

UNT will look to those players to come through on a day when the Mean Green will try to get a better grasp on what they have in terms of not only their young players but their team overall.

“We need to get into some uncomfortable situations and learn how to react,” Littrell said. “It’s an important day.”

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

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