UNT spring five things

North Texas head coach Seth Littrell watches his team from the sidelines during a win over Middle Tennessee last season. UNT was scheduled to begin spring practice on Monday before the spread of COVID-19 forced the school to postpone workouts indefinitely. 

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North Texas was just days away from opening spring practice when the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 interrupted the sports world.

The Mean Green were set to open drills on Monday and didn't get a single workout in.

The way it all played out was a particularly tough break for UNT as it looks to rebound from a 4-8 season that snapped a streak of three straight years with a bowl appearance under coach Seth Littrell.

One can argue UNT would have been better off having spring practice delayed in any of the previous three seasons when compared to this year. Here are five reasons that is the case:

1. UNT has to find a replacement for Mason Fine

The biggest issue the Mean Green face heading into the 2020 season is finding a replacement for record-setting quarterback Mason Fine.

It's not really even a question.

Fine threw for 12,505 yards and 93 touchdowns in his career. He's one of the greatest players in UNT history. Teams don't replace players like Fine easily.

UNT's circumstances certainly don't help matters any. The Mean Green have struggled mightily the last two seasons when Fine has been out due to injury. UNT trailed Louisiana Tech 10-3 when Fine was was knocked out of a game last season. The Bulldogs ended up 52-17.

It didn't go any better for UNT in the New Mexico Bowl at the end of the 2018 season when Fine was knocked out early. The Mean Green lost that game 52-13.

UNT will turn to a host of unproven players to replace Fine. Former Argyle standout Austin Aune and Jason Bean are the leading candidates for the job. They combined to throw 40 passes last season.

Saying that pair needed to get some work in this spring would be a gross understatement.

2. Clint Bowen just lost time to install his defensive scheme

One of the biggest challenges UNT was set to tackle in the spring was installing a new defense under coordinator Clint Bowen.

Bowen replaced Troy Reffett after a tough year that saw the Mean Green allow 32.5 points per game. UNT played a 3-3-5 scheme last season. 

Incoming defensive end Jonathan Pickett said this summer that he was recruited to play in that same scheme. 

Even if UNT does stick with the same system, there are sure to be differences between Reffett's approach and what Bowen will install. The Mean Green lost their chance to work through those changes this spring.

3. Bowen is just one of five new assistant coaches

Littrell cited stability in his coaching staff as a reason for UNT's success while leading the Mean Green to three straight bowl appearances.

That stability is long gone heading into the 2020 season. UNT lost or parted ways with three of the four coaches who were listed as coordinators or co-coordinators last season. Co-offensive coordinator Tommy Mainord is the only coach with a coordinator title returning to a staff with five new assistant coaches.

Mike Bloesch will serve as a co-offensive coordinator in his first season at UNT. Mike Ekeler took over as the Mean Green's special teams coordinator, giving UNT three new coordinators, counting Bowen.

Defensive line coach Eric Mathies and quarterbacks coach Tate Wallis are also new.

UNT needs time to get everyone together on the field to develop some chemistry. Sooner would be better than later.

4. UNT has a couple of junior college players it needed to come on quickly in the spring

Part of UNT's plan for how it would bounce back from a four-win season was signing a few junior college players who could transfer in at the semester break and go through spring practice so they would be ready in the fall.

Defensive end Davontae McCrae is a prime candidate to take over for LaDarius Hamilton, one of UNT's most productive players. Offensive Anterrious Gray is another JUCO transfer UNT is depending on.

UNT also has a handful of high school players who enrolled early.

Those players are all on campus but are not getting the on-field work that would help them prepare to play right away in the fall.

5. UNT needs time to develop on its offensive line

UNT has just one player returning who was listed as a starter on its offensive line heading into its season finale against UAB a few months ago.

Right guard Manase Mose is a terrific piece to build around. What UNT will have him around him is a huge question, though. 

The Mean Green could really use some time on the field to see how Gray and a host of other players will fit together.

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

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