DENTON, Texas (4/1/09) Today MeanGreenSports.com continues a position-by-position breakdown of the North Texas football team in the spring and where it’s headed in the fall. Along the way we welcome your questions about each position and we answer them the following day. Yesterday it was the offensive line, today we switch sides and preview the what the defensive line will look like. E-mail Q&A are at the bottom. And were adding a new feature called “He said it”. Some very candid audio from new defensive line coach Mike Nelson that’s worth a listen. The content is free. Click Here To Submit Questions
A leader must emerge from the defensive line spot heading into the 2009 campaign for North Texas and with a new coach full of energy the Mean Green might have found the right combination. Mike Nelson takes over the defensive line responsibilities and you won’t find a coach in the FBS ranks with more experience than Nelson.
North Texas returns over 80 percent of its sack totals from last season and the player who has the look of an all-conference type is senior Eddrick Gilmore. He led North Texas in sacks last season while splitting time between defensive end and tackle. This season Gilmore will line up as the No. 1 defensive end and get the bulk of the attention from the opposing team.
Kyle Russo and Mack Cole III will get the first crack opposite Gilmore in the spring. Russo came on strong to close the 2008 season out with a tackle for a loss in the final four games. What he might lack in size, Russo makes up for in speed and effort on every play.
Cole brings a different element to the pass rushing game as he used his 6-4 frame to create havoc last season. Despite having to sit out the spring with an injury, Cole’s presence will be felt come the fall and 2009 season.
One of the biggest switches this spring has been Brandon Akpunku moving from linebacker to defensive end. Pound for pound one of the strongest players on the team, Akpunku fits the mold of a speedy defensive end that new line coach Mike Nelson is searching for. While a little undersized for a classic defensive end Akpunku makes up for size with his speed.
One area of concern heading into the offseason for the Mean Green was the depth at the defensive tackle and line positions, but with the redshirts coming off players and by signing six defensive lineman this recruiting class, defensive coordinator Gary DeLoach will have a lot less sleepless nights knowing the defensive line is now one of the deepest positions on his side of the ball.
With the likes of Draylen Ross, Jessie DeSoto, Charlie Brown, Troy Franklin, and Sam Owusu-Hemeng back the Mean Green line has the depth it has lack in previous years. Toss in redshirt freshman Tevinn Cantly and Joe Hawthorne it gets even better, and that’s not even talking about the newcomers yet.
Ross and DeSoto clogged up the middle of the defensive line last season with help from Troy Franklin. The promising young Franklin saw action in five games but the coaches are very high on his potential at 6-4, 277. One of the most talked players on the defensive line entering the spring is Tevinn Cantly. Coming out of high school he was a bit of a mystery, but at 6-4, 310 the mystery about Cantly will be how to defend him.
Cantly has shown his versatility this spring also playing some defensive end along with tackle. It remains to be seen where opposing teams will have to find him come the fall.
DeLoach and Nelson will also have the services of Hawthorne and Tyler Kubala during the spring to add to the level of competition being brought.
If its size North Texas needed on the defensive line, consider it done with the additions of junior college transfers Shavod Atkinson and Kelvin Jackson. They check in at 298 pounds and 320 pounds respectively and both bring resumes full of success. Atkinson was a KJCCC Honorable Mention with 48 tackles last season, of which 37 were solos. Jackson was named to the MACJC North second team with nine-tackles for a loss and 41 overall.
John Weber arrives at North Texas as pass rushing specialist. Last season at Itawamba JC he racked up 8.5 sacks and at over 300 pounds Weber’s size alone will add an element to the defensive line that it has lacked in recent years.
Bob from Plano
Q: What are the heights and weights of our projected starting offensive line?
A: Official heights and weights are done prior to the start of 2-a-days in August. Now we could guess on some of the guys but that’s probably not a good idea unless you’re auditioning for a job at Six Flags or the State Fair.
Carol from Columbus
Q: Gabe Hollivay has proven to be a top offensive lineman by evident of Cam Montgomery’s yardage. Will the team run the ball more this year?
A: You could make a good argument for Hollivay being the best lineman....right now. That could change. Before I get to Cam’s yardage the offensive line has made tremendous strides under Spencer Leftwich. Technique and fundamentals are such an important part of being a lineman that it’s sometimes overlooked but that’s one of the biggest area’s of improvement you will see. Two lineman who has really caught our eye during the spring is Coleman Feeley and Kelvin Drake.
Feeley reminds us a lot of a former Mean Green lineman who was as good as they get, Nick Zuniga. Feeley is bigger (6-4, 318 vs. 6-3 295) but not quite as strong...yet. The fact that he started the final seven games should also tell you what the coaches think about him. It will take Drake some time to get use to game speed, hitting, etc, but just having him out there does so much for the younger lineman.
Now to your original question, will the team run more. North Texas ran the ball 42 percent of the time last season but getting the ball into the hands of guys like Cam, Lance Dunbar, James Hamilton, and Jeremi Mathis, and Micah Mosley. A quick aside, is that position loaded or what? But be it running or the passing game, I think Cam is in for a huge year. He looks as good as I’ve seen him right now and an argument for him being the top running back in the Sun Belt now is not out of the question.
Dave from Texas
Q: Gabe Hollivay looked to be the strongest lineman on the team. What about using him to plug up the middle on defense?
A: If there was practice today that would be a great April Fools Day joke, but not likely going to happen. He’s right where he needs to be.