Phil Bennett has more than a few tricks in his arsenal after all these years as a defensive coordinator at programs across the country.
Being able to adapt and use talent effectively is what has made Bennett successful at places like Kansas State, Texas A&M and now North Texas.
The results spoke for themselves last year, when UNT made a dramatic jump while cutting the number of points it allowed from 42.8 the year before Bennett arrived to 27.5 last season.
The promising aspect of how it all played out for the Mean Green is that Bennett really hasn’t had a chance to show his full repertoire. He didn’t have enough time to put all his schemes in or the depth to make them work last year.
That is changing this fall as UNT prepares for its season opener on Aug. 27 at UTEP.
“A year of experience has helped us,” Bennett said. “They know what to expect from us. We know them. They know us. There is a good familiarity. We still have to improve, which we are.
“It’s been a lot of fun. They have worked very hard. We have been able to add some things that we couldn’t last year that will help us.”
UNT experimented with a 3-4 alignment in the spring and is still working through its options as fall practice progresses.
The Mean Green still have a long way to go to reach what they believe is their potential but are farther along than they were last spring. UNT added a batch of transfers in the offseason, including defensive end Tom Trieb and linebacker Mazin Richards.
Those players are starting to carve out roles in fall practice.
“We are starting to come together defensively,” Trieb said. “We play together and feel the same about the game. We love playing together and competing every day. We have a competitive fire that we haven’t had on a team I have played for.”
UNT is hoping its defense will continue to jell as it progresses through the fall.
The Mean Green have a few key holes in their lineup to fill, especially across their defensive front. UNT lost all four of its starters to graduation or transfer.
The Mean Green feel good about their ability to fill those voids largely because of the way several players like Trieb and Richards have come in and quickly found their roles. UNT will depend on that pair and several other newcomers to fill holes in its lineup.
“It’s been coming together really well,” Richards said. “It’s a good mix of young guys and veterans. The veterans are taking the younger guys under their wing and are coaching them up on and off the field. We are doing a good job of getting up to speed.”
The hope is UNT can take another dramatic step forward defensively in a season in which the Mean Green will be looking to break through for a bowl win.
UNT made its fifth bowl appearance in six seasons under coach Seth Littrell last year when the Mean Green played in the Frisco Football Classic. UNT let an early lead slip away in a 27-14 loss.
That loss was UNT’s fifth straight in bowls in the Littrell era. There are plenty of areas in which the Mean Green will look to improve as they aim to break through.
Making another jump defensively certainly would help matters.
Bennett and his players believe they have a chance to reach that goal, largely because of the progress they have made in the offseason. UNT has added a few key pieces to its lineup and gained a better understanding of what Bennett is trying to accomplish.
“The chemistry and bond on and off the field is better than it has ever been,” cornerback DeShawn Gaddie said. “We all like each other. We are teammates and brothers.”
That improved chemistry and experience will allow Bennett to unleash more of his defensive arsenal this fall.
That could be good news for UNT.