Cam Johnson CBs

North Texas cornerback Cam Johnson (11) tackles wide receiver O’Keeron Rutherford during spring practice. Johnson will be among a host of players competing for a starting job when fall practice opens in a few days.

Staff Writer

We are now just days away from North Texas opening fall practice.

UNT’s players report on Aug. 1. Practice will begin the following day.

The Mean Green return 13 starters and are more set than in recent memory when it comes to the lineup.

Mason Fine is back at quarterback. DeAndre Torrey emerged as UNT’s top running back last year. Rico Bussey Jr. will start at one outside receiver spot.

There are a few positions that are still up for grabs, though.

We’ll look at how a few of those battles shape up heading into fall practice, beginning today with the cornerback spot.

The state of the position is one we have discussed extensively since the end of last season, when UNT lost starters Kemon Hall and Nate Brooks to graduation. Both will participate in NFL training camps this summer.

UNT had a host of players compete for the starting jobs in spring practice and ended up with four listed as co-starters heading into fall practice. Jordan Roberts and Keelan Crosby are listed as co-starters on one side with Cam Johnson and Quinn Whitlock on the other.

UNT’s coaches never seemed particularly comfortable with the situation at the position. They went out after spring practice and grabbed graduate transfers Dominique Harrison from Arizona State and Nick Harvey from South Carolina.

Both Harrison and Harvey could fit in multiple spots in UNT’s five-man secondary, including cornerback.

UNT also added a couple of highly regarded freshmen in DeShawn Gaddie and Dorian Morris over the summer.

UNT could have eight players in the mix for its two starting cornerback spots when practice begins.

And don’t forget, this is Clay Jennings’ first season as UNT’s cornerbacks coach.

There are a lot of moving parts at the position. The decisions UNT makes there will go a long way toward determining if the Mean Green can continue their upswing defensively. UNT allowed 24.2 points per game last season, down from 35.0 the previous season.

There were a host of reasons for that improvement. UNT did a better job of getting pressure on the quarterback and featured a pair of linebackers who combined for 189 tackles in E.J. Ejiya and Brandon Garner.

Some of the credit also has to go to Brooks and Hall.

Hall was a first-team All-C-USA selection, while Brooks was a second-team pick.

UNT leaves its cornerbacks in man coverage in coordinator Troy Reffett’s 3-3-5 scheme.

The importance of having players who can handle the challenge was evident last season when UNT fell to Louisiana Tech. UNT lost Hall early on and struggled to contain Adrian Hardy and Rhashid Bonnette.

The pair combined for 12 catches for 176 yards and a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ win.

UNT has plenty of options as it looks to replace Hall and Brooks but didn’t make much progress toward settling on a pair of starters in the spring.

The Mean Green’s staff will make the call over the course of preseason practice.

The decision will be one of the most important UNT’s staff makes before its season opener against Abilene Christian.

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

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