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  1. The video at the top of this blog is of Dan McCarney and I chatting a little about the spring game and how spring practice went in general for the Mean Green. McCarney has some interesting things to say, as always. And while we are at it, Im going to break one of my unwritten rules and allow myself to be drug into a ridiculous debate after being called out for not agreeing with a readers opinion on a topic that really doesnt matter in the large scheme of things. The topic? Is this the deepest batch of running backs UNT has ever had going into the 2014 season? Watch video here and more: http://meangreenblog.dentonrc.com/2014/04/mgb-video-mccarney-talks-spring-game-is-this-unts-deepest-batch-of-backs-ever.html/
  2. 1). As talented as QB Dajon Williams athletically, is he just not yet ready for prime time. First off -- he's just a redshirt freshman... so after his medical redshirt he will have 4 more years to play. I think sometimes we forget that, and his performance in the Idaho home opener game last season probably didn't help in terms of our expectations. Much like the Fall of 2013, Williams took UNT's first couple of weeks in Spring training by storm. He made great plays, plays that the other guys couldn't make. When it's just football, Williams excels. When it comes to the system and understanding a fairly complex Chico Canales offense, Williams can no longer just react using his instincts and athleticism to make plays. This leads to improvising which can lead to turnovers which we all know Mac utterly despises. read more:
  3. Thursday was another terrific weather day and I arrived at the Darrell Dickey practice facility right about 3:30pm on the nose. When I checked in at the gate I was greeted by three Eagle Angels at a table who thought I might be a coach as I was donned in my typical UNT apparel. I received a name badge and shook hands with UNT Director of Football Operations Scotty Conley who was overlooking the table. There was a bigger crowd of recruits, fans, UNT AD staff than at the 2nd Spring practice I attended. The onlookers kept building up in size as the day went on. Part of this was due to the fact the 2nd practice was right before a basketball game at the Pit and so with basketball being over more of the staff were able to be in attendance. The surprise attendee was Tony Benford who watched a good hour of the practice from the sidelines with Rick Villarreal. There was a clear wind behind the sails of Coach Mac and all of the assistants and UNT AD Rick Villarreal. The news earlier in the day that UNT had officially extended Mac's contract and given him a significant raise seemed to add a positive vibe and kept things light and positive. In terms of the practice itself, NT03 correctly pointed out that this was a pretty drill focused day. They are in full pads, so there is contact but it is still somewhat limited. What I mean by that, they are not throwing players on the ground or really following through. If a defender is in position to make a tackle then he doesn't have to make the tackle just show that he is in the right position to do so. A better way to describe it would be initial impact but no follow through... my guess is they are working their way up to the real deal and this allows them to minimize injuries in the meantime. Some of the drills however were hardcore 100%. I specially noticed this in the defensive line drills but more on that later. Quarterbacks I was able to spend a good amount of time taking photos of the quarterbacks running through their drills with Coach Chico. Chico is very consistent with how he sets up the drills, working primarily with footwork around cones in the throwing position and then gradually working up to footwork with handoffs and passing. I saw a dramatic improvement from all of the 6 QB candidates in terms of handling the cones and keeping their eyes downfield. #5 Andrew McNulty is leading most of the drills which makes sense as he is the most senior and experienced QB in the mix at this time. This section of the practice is very equal opportunity as it appears all 6 are given somewhat even reps in the cones and to a certain extent the passing drills as well. Chico wears his encouragement hat for most of these drills. He tends to boil up more during the actual scrimmages. I found it interesting that defensive line coach Kevin Patrick is just the opposite and tends to go off more during the drills and become more of a teammate during the scrimmages -- almost like he is a defensive linemen on the sidelines that just can't play. One more note about McNulty. He isn't the loudest, in fact he is almost quiet but he is extremely steady. I would not write him off. He is going to know the system better than every QB out there. He's never going to throw the 12 and out on a rope as Dajon Wililams and Josh Greer. I think we are extremely fortunate to have this guy as the returning veteran. He quietly goes about his business and works extremely hard in every facet of practice. It sets a great example for the other guys. I know that people are going to start saying that I am becoming a DaJon Williams homer but he again impressed me tremendously in this practice and in particular the scrimmage. The scrimmage that they ran for about 35-40 minutes was situational and they had a full fledged referee. It was a 1's vs 1's and 2's vs. 2's and 3's vs. 3's type of affair where you started on the 25 and had the chance to make it all the way for the touchdown or turn the ball over. Williams was running a lot with the ones and had a 3rd and long on the opponent's 35-yard line. He rolled out to the right to face a hard charging Chad Polk from the end spot. Williams put a sweet juke and was able to get past him to the sidelines, the entire time looking downfield for an open receiver. He made his way to the far sideline and had a linebacker and safety coming up on him quickly. He then swerved to miss both of them and did but lost his footing with the sidelines as his enemy. As he was falling to the ground he throws the most pin point laser strike to #16 wide receiver Willie Hubbard in the endzone for a touchdown. The offensive team came off the sideline like a green wave shouting and jumping with approval. It was one of those exhilarating moments in time. You get the feeling that you are watching a unique talent, a player with special abilities like we have not seen at this position. The other QB's held their own and I thought made a good accounting of themselves as well. I continue to be impressed with how much true freshman Conner Means is showing on the field. I think they really like Josh Greer. He's not the explosive player that Williams is but he has a steadiness about him that reminds you of DT. I was surprised with his speed on a couple of runs. Unfortunately on a short scrimmage scenario as this one was, you didn't get to see as much of Josh Cousins or Quinn Shanbour although both looked pretty good in the drills that I saw. Gotta give a shot out to my main man Derek Thompson who again is out there helping in drills and assisting the young guys as they try to learn the system. I heard him offer help to the new QB's in the 7 on 7 drill, in terms of preparing them for Chico's script and the sequential order of the formations and plays. I think that is such a cool thing to have that type of support from a guy who has no obligation to be giving of his time. Running Backs Seeing a lot of #22 Antoine Jimmerson as you would expect and #8 Mark Lewis (same number as QB Josh Greer and will be interesting to who gets to keep it). Since they aren't allowing full force tackling it's really hard to evaluate this position. It looks like they are breaking off huge runs almost every play but the truth is they would have been tackled under normal conditions. Rex Rollins is very involved despite wearing the red protective jersey and his speed and build are very impressive. #21 Jermaine Wilhite had some nice runs in the scrimmage and he is a pretty bulked up guy, I hadn't noticed how big his guns and upper body were. As far as the new face they are most excited about, keep an eye on #18 Erick Evans brother of safety and Louisville transfer Zed Evans. Guy is just a redshirt freshman but has jets. He is going to be a very fun one to watch. I couldn't help but think with all of the players we have at running back now, combined with the fact we have two more really talented ones coming in the Fall- this position is well stocked and perhaps even a logjam. The thing that will become important is who can be the consistent guy ala Byrd. Jim Jim has some great abilities but they are really looking for him to become more consistent. If he falters you could see a Mark Lewis or Rex Rollins become more of the focus guy. I could see Rollins and Evans help with some of the Chancellor running plays with their speed. Signee Willie Ivery may help there as well. Tight Ends Not a whole lot to report here but I was able to focus some time on redshirt tight end Wylie Reinhardt. Man he is big! Muscled up, very athletic. Would love to see him at defensive end or even tackle but with the uncertainty of Chris Loving (out for spring with broken wrist) you understand why they need to keep him there. I watched him in blocking technique and he looks very solid, and while not dominant against the upper tier players on the defense he is certainly holding his own. Marcus Smith is clearly the guy, as he seems to ping pong around from drill to drill with every positional coach wanting him to participate in their sessions. He looks really good and in the scrimmage plays I saw him in it appears his blocking continues to improve. It will be fun to watch him this spring and in the upcoming season because he has the ability to be a big difference maker at 6-4 255 with his hands. Tanner Smith and Cooper Jones appear to be spitting the rest of the reps. If Loving can get back on track in the Fall this could be a strong suit of the 2014 team. Wide Receivers I mentioned the big catch made by Willie Hubbard and he certainly seems to be in the mix for playing time. I thought #11 Darius Terrell had a good day, making some nice grabs and even a touchdown. They are lining him up on the outside, ie Darnell Smith and putting Carlos Harris on the inside. Harris appears to be continuing to showcase his abilities to get open as I saw him make a couple of nice grabs on 12-yard curl patterns. Offensive Line There remain some pretty significant shotgun snapping issues - when 6-5 Josh Greer has to jump off the ground to get to a snap you have an issue. I think I finally figured out the culprit. Junior Sean Clayton (6-2, 285) a junior from Duncanville (#73) is filling in as the backup center now that McKinney has moved to guard. Usually, when you start giving a guy some live snaps he will start to adjust so this is something that should correct itself in time. Let's put this to rest right now, Cyril Lemon is now a tackle and I think he's going to be a dandy one before all is said and done. The bigger issue to me is can Shawn McKinney fill in for him at guard. Honestly I'd like to see him lose a little more weight and we all know how tough those summers off can be.. I couldn't help but think big Antonio Johnson might be our best chance at an NFL draft choice in awhile. He just looks different, he's so tall and athletic. I think the guy could add another 20 pounds before all is said and done. I thought the O-Line was dominant through much of the inter squad drills and the scrimmage with the caviat of the defense is not being allowed to wrap up and punish as they will eventually (?) be allowed to do. I did not see Sam Rice the transfer from SMU out there, may have just missed him or he may have had to take care of some things on this day. Boy howdy, big Michael Banogu the 6-5, 300 player from Prosper sure does look the part. He sat out last season with an injury but he would be a player I might keep an eye on in the Saturday scrimmage. Not much else to report here. Starters remain, Johnson, Y'Barbo, Kirby, McKinney and Lemon. Rentfro appears to be the first guy off of the bench. Defensive Line I was fortunate enough to get to watch the defensive line drills at the same time that Coach Mac was in the vicinity. You could tell that the players were eager to show the boss man what they could do. It was probably the most physically intense drill of the practice. You had an offensive lineman lined up against a defensive lineman and it was in order of 1's versus 1's, 2's versus 2's and so on. You start with the left defensive end and he is going one on one with the right tackle and the goal is for the defensive player to get to the QB (blocking dummy). Coach blows the whistle and its mano y mano. I personally think this is a drill whereby the offensive lineman has an advantage because he knows where the QB is and can lock in his feet and leverage the defensive player outside. First up was Jerrian Roberts who had the unfortunate situation of lining up against big and newly designated tackle Cyril Lemon. Lemon just imposed his will on poor Jerrian. You saw similar domination occur from Mason Y'Barbo. The offense won the contest something like 8-3. Superlatives for the D-Line were, Sid Moore, who has one of the most beastly spin moves I've ever seen and he used it effectively against big Shawn McKinney. I was pleasantly surprised to see Dutton Watson win some battles in the middle nose spot. He is a name to keep an eye on. He was lined up with Alex Lincoln as the starting DT's in the scrimmage and appears to be making his move. Lincoln made some outstanding plays in the scrimmage - I think he will be a very solid player for us next season. The starting ends were Jerrian Roberts and Chad Polk. Polk has put on some bulk but will always be undersized. There appears to be decent depth with Q Brown and of course Daryl Mason who played so well in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. If you ask me, I can still see Q and Mason being the starters but they seemed to want to mix things up today which was fine. The dark horse appears to be walk-on Andy Flusche who is every bit of 6-3, 240. Flusche is definately in the mix in the rotation. Also redshirt freshman Malik Dilonga made a nice play in the scrimmage behind the line and was receiving a lot of praise from his teammates and the coaches. I think he and Flusche could be battling for that 5th defensive end spot. In summary -- this will be a smallish defensive line by C-USA standards, especially in the middle. Sid Moore appears to be a guy that could play an immediate role at the outside tackle (not nose) but he's not a real big guy, just extremely quick and tenacious. I would guess Moore is 6-1 260 right now. With Dutton Watson's stock rising and Austin Orr - who is a pretty big dude - at 6-4 285? you have some options in the middle. The one guy who has the most size, Sir Calvin Wallace #70 does appear to be in better shape and has lost some weight but I did not see him make a lot of plays. Speed is a big deal, I just think size can wear you down in the second half and it may put more of the onus on the offense to build leads and start off strong. Linebacker The nickname of the MVP on this day, and I mean MVP of the ENTIRE defense is "D.A.". Derek Akunne is a stud -- he plays at a level that it is just hard for the rest of the defense to keep up with. He's extremely nimble and fast and was making tremendous plays throughout the scrimmage. I see him as the heir apparent to the great Zach Orr although DA will play the strongside linebacker position in this defense. If you make it to the scrimmage on Saturday keep an eye on him. I know he had already received all C-USA recognition, but he appears to have raised it another level and is taking on the role as the leader of the defense. The starters in the scrimmage were Akunne at strong and big Freddy Scott in the middle with speedy sophomore Jamal Marshall on the weakside replacing Will Wright. Scott seems to be taking the lead over challenger and Oregon transfer Anthony Wallace. I saw him make some nice plays and get a lot of praise from defensive coordinator John Skladany. I was a little surprised to see Marshall ahead of some of the other guys at an outside spot. I'm hearing that the coaching staff really likes him, and of course his track speed. I watched him make some great plays on special teams last year and it appears this may well be his chance to shine. He's young, and he's going to make some mistakes but he is probably the fastest linebacker on the squad, and that's saying something these days with guys like Sed Ellis, Calvin Minor and AJ Smith. Back to Wallace -- he may have just been having a tough day, and he clearly is still working on understanding the system. He just looked a bit out of sorts on the plays I followed him on. I think at this point, it's Fred Scott's job to lose, however I think Wallace will shine more when it turns to full contact, especially in the interior running game. I am extremely impressed with the talent and depth we have at this position. Next to offensive line this may be the strongest and deepest position on the team. Defensive Back I thought it was pretty cool to see Marcus Trice out there helping safety Freddie Warner on the sidelines. Much like DT, Trice is showing his leadership even though he had graduated. You could see how badly he wanted to be out there. Such a love for the game is so neat to see. This positional area has remained pretty consistent in the first 4 practices. Starters continue to be Laramie Lee and Zed Evans at the safety spots; Kenny Buyers holding down one corner, and a plethora of guys vying for the spot that James Jones will likely occupy in the Fall after he recovers from his surgery. Playmakers today were David Busby who made a nice tackle on a run support play that got the coaches attention; I'm pretty certain it was Brock Squier #29 that might have had one of the better hits in the scrimmage against the run. Chad Davis continues to show off his speed and agility, he could be a guy that makes a good case to be the first corner off the bench after Zach Whitfield. I was kind of intrigued watching Mike Marshall out there and realize that he may not be a starter but he is the biggest and most physical (next to Lee) defensive back we have. Could be used in run situations. John Schilleci keeps working hard at corner and seems to be making progress with his technique. Freddie Warner continues his comeback march and I saw him doing some nice things at safety. Coaching and General Thoughts You can get a sense that the coaches are trying to build to a crescendo in terms of limiting the amount of contact allowed. Saturday's scrimmage could be the first real taste of who can lay the wood and be physical... There were a fair amount of recruits and families but I expect Saturday (March 22nd) to be a really big turnout because the high school kids will not be in school... I really like what I am seeing from the new secondary coaches LaMarcus Hicks and Perry Carter. They were fairly quiet in the practice that I witnessed; now they are both getting more vocal and engaged with the players. It's a lot different than when Walters and Joseph were here as both would explode on the guys from time to time and you can't question effectiveness of that. I am sure in time we will get more of that from the new guys... Big Country Richard Abbe was on the sidelines encouraging his teammates again, and I sure wish he had another year of eligibility... It was interesting, when Mac got frustrated about a play or a lack of intensity how the other assistants seemed to feed off of that and show more emotion. I guess this is fairly standard for a college coaching staff but I had never noticed that as much as on Thursday... Would someone please remind me to bring some sun screen out there for the next practice? I got home and had a pretty nasty burn on my face and neck. Sucks getting old it does!
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