North Texas quarterback Mason Fine and the rest of the Mean Green’s loaded offense had three shots at establishing a rhythm to begin a closed scrimmage on Saturday.
UNT went three-and-out each time.
That series set the tone for what coach Seth Littrell saw as a big step forward for UNT’s defense.
Littrell and his players commented on what transpired in the scrimmage on Tuesday, the first day they were available following the workout.
“Our defense played at a high level,” Littrell said. “They moved around fast and there were not as many mental errors. Some of the young guys got some good work. We played pretty well on defense, particularly that first group.”
UNT lost several key players from that group after last season, including linebacker E.J. Ejiya and cornerback Kemon Hall. The Mean Green have spent the last few weeks rebuilding and saw some positive signs in their first full scrimmage of the fall.
Littrell said he is impressed with the speed, athleticism and depth of UNT’s defense. He went on to single out several of the players who have played a role in the Mean Green’s improvement in the first three weeks of fall drills.
UNT has three cornerbacks in the contention for starting jobs in graduate transfer Nick Harvey, Quinn Whitlock, a midterm junior college addition, and veteran backup Cam Johnson. Littrell has been impressed with all three as well as freshman DeShawn Gaddie.
“I’m really excited with our depth at defensive back,” Littrell said.
Linebackers KD Davis and Tyreke Davis, a former Ryan standout, and freshman Kevin Wood are also performing at a high level.
UNT’s defensive front has shown improved athleticism and the ability to generate pressure.
That improvement has made an impression on veteran wide receiver Michael Lawrence, who helped UNT average 34.6 points per game last season.
“They pushed us,” Lawrence said of UNT’s defense. “That’s what we need.”
UNT’s offense responded later in the scrimmage as it continues to sort through the adjustment to playing for first-year coordinator Bodie Reeder.
“Offensively, some of the early rhythm and timing were a bit off,” Littrell said. “We put a heavy load on them early on. They were more hesitant than they have been in the past.”
The Mean Green’s offense has responded with a couple of good days since Saturday’s scrimmage. The back-and-forth battle has been encouraging for Littrell.
UNT’s defense that returns just five starters was the biggest question entering the offseason.
The Mean Green still have a long way to go but felt like they made a big step in the right direction in the first scrimmage of the fall.
“I’m pleased with where we started defensively in the first scrimmage,” Littrell said. “You want them to set the tone and we did that.”
Bean makes an impression during scrimmage
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jason Bean excelled in UNT’s scrimmage, guiding the Mean Green to touchdowns on three of the four drives he was in the game.
Bean is competing with former Argyle standout Austin Aune for the backup quarterback job behind Fine, the preseason offensive player of the year in Conference USA.
“It’s been back and forth,” Littrell said. “They are still growing and getting more comfortable in the system.”
Young players excelling early on
UNT has several young players pushing for playing time, especially on the defense, where Gaddie and Wood have stood out.
Both have seen time with UNT’s second-team defense.
The Mean Green have a few newcomers pushing for playing time on offense as well, including redshirt freshman wide receiver Jyaire Shorter.
“I feel really good about some of our young guys who are farther along than I thought they would be,” Littrell said.
Fine named to another watch list
Fine was named to the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award on Tuesday.
The honor goes to one player each season who displays the characteristics that define Earl Campbell: integrity, performance, teamwork, sportsmanship, drive, community and tenacity. To qualify for the award players must have been born in Texas, graduated from a Texas high school or junior college or play for a Texas college.
Fine enters his senior season as the nation’s active leading passer with 9,417 yards. He has been named the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year in each of the last two seasons.