Ethan Mooney specialists

North Texas kicker Ethan Mooney kicks a field goal last season at Apogee Stadium. Mooney is one of the Mean Green's key returning specialists.

Marty Biagi came to North Texas before the 2017 season for his first crack at working as a special teams coordinator at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

He departed after last season for Purdue as one of the up-and-coming stars in college football when it comes to special teams coaches. He drew national attention pulling off a perfectly executed kickoff return in 2018 that saw Keegan Brewer fake a fair catch and then race untouched 90 yards for a touchdown in a win over Arkansas.

That touchdown was one of six UNT scored on special teams in Biagi's three seasons when the Mean Green also blocked nine punts and four kicks.

The question now is what UNT can accomplish under Mike Ekeler, who took over the Mean Green's special teams in the offseason. Ekeler is well traveled and is in is second stint with the Mean Green. He served as UNT's defensive coordinator in 2016.

We turn our attention to Ekeler and UNT's special teams units today as we wrap our our annual series examining the Mean Green's roster on a position-by-position basis heading into spring practice.

Key returnees: K Ethan Mooney, junior; PR Jaelon Darden, senior; PR DeShawn Gaddie, sophomore; KR DeAndre Torrey, senior; KR Deion Hair-Griffin, sennior; KR Evan Johnson, senior; DS Nate Durham, senior; DS Brandon Oldham, redshirt freshman; K Zach Williams, junior; P Bernardo Rodriguez, junior

Key losses: P Alvin Kenworthy, PR Dominique Harrison, PR Nick Harvey

Newcomers: K/P Riley Nuzzo, freshman

Biggest answered question: UNT will have to find a new punter following the departure of Alvin Kenworthy. That's a key issue. The biggest question for the Mean Green, however, is how they will fare without Biagi to steer the ship. Biagi is a former punter and kicker at Marshall and is a career special teams coach. Ekeler is as experienced as assistant coaches come in college football. He's more than qualified but will have to build relationships with a host of new players and maintain the history of success Biagi established.

Why 2020 production could be better: Biagi left Ekeler a good batch of specialists to work with this fall. Mooney is a proven commodity and hit 16 of his 20 field goal attempts last season. The Mean Green also have a host of solid kick and punt returners. Deion Hair-Griffin has a knack for returning kickoffs and averaged a whopping 40.8 yards on 12 attempts last season. Punt returner Jaelon Darden is also back. UNT won't lack talent when it comes to its special teams units.

Why 2020 production could be worse: There is no telling how UNT will adjust without Biagi. One can make a good argument that he was the Mean Green's best assistant coach over the last few years. Replacing Kenworthy also won't be easy. He averaged 43.7 yards per punt, had 11 punts of more than 50 yards and 22 attempts downed inside opponents' 20-yard line. UNT does not have an obvious replacement ready to step in.

Overall outlook: Having Mooney and Hair-Griffin back is a huge boost for UNT following the departure of Biagi. 

The Mean Green have all the pieces in place to field a solid special teams unit. Mooney should continue to improve and UNT has enough talented kick and punt returners to keep opponents on their toes.

There will be an adjustment period under Ekeler, but the Mean Green should be ready when the season arrives.

Here's a look back at our series:

Wide receiver/tight end: UNT brings back talented group

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

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