DENTON, Texas (4/2/09) 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 defensive line, today we look at the guys right behind them, the linebackers. E-mail Q&A are at the bottom. Today’s “He said it” feature is with coach David Rausch talked LB’s. The content is free. If you have trouble accessing the audio at first click, try another link first and then the original again. Click Here To Submit Questions
If it’s leadership you’re looking for on the North Texas defense, look no further than the linebackers. The starter trio of Tobe Nwigwe, Craig Robertson, and A. J. Penson are all back after racking up a combined 255 tackles between the three last season. Nwigwe already had a breakout season last year by leading the team in tackles with 111, but this offseason he has taken on a personal role of leadership not only with the defense but as the team’s leader. Nwigwe was a second-team all-conference player and turned in the play of the season when he returned an interception for a touchdown on the last play of the game against Western Kentucky to win the game.
The 6-1, 251 pound middle linebacker has transformed himself from a problematic player in his earlier years to a role model for the younger ones to emulate. Coach Dodge has personally seen the change in Nwigwe and expects big things from his senior linebacker.
Robertson was second in tackles behind Nwigwe with 93 but led the team in tackles-for-a-loss. He complemented Nwigwe and had two picks of his own along with two forced fumbles. Penson will move to the middle linebacker spot and complement Nwigwe while Steve Warren will be the primary back-up for Robertson heading into the season.
Penson recorded 51 tackles last season while Warren, known as a special team’s expert, has come on heading into the spring and will challenge for playing time this spring heading into the fall. Warren, a converted safety, had four tackles for a loss last season along with 27 tackles.
Redshirt freshman Jeremy Phillips moves from the secondary to the linebacking core and has been one of the surprises of the spring. Phillips, who was a quarterback in high school, is a quick learner and has caught the eye of defensive coordinator Gary DeLoach. Phillips is described as a smart and rangy player who is expected to be at around 220 pounds to start the season.
That wasn’t the only move for the linebackers as Kylie Hill drops down from the secondary to join the unit. Hill started all 12 games last season in the secondary and had 77 tackles, but the feel his ability to make plays in the open space will give me more opportunities as a linebacker.
Depth-wise the Mean Green has a lot of options to choose from. Robbie Deheck, Marquese Davis, and converted defensive end Marquis Sykes gives the Mean Green plenty of players to line-up. Sykes slides back to the linebacker spot this year after playing eight games at the defensive end position.
Incoming freshman Daniel Pryor will get a chance to find his way into the rotation as he was rated as the 36th best linebacker in the nation last year.
Darius from Dallas
Q: Do we have any up and coming walk on prospects ?
A: The one guy who has made some waves through this spring has been wide receiver Bennie Jones. He is from Navarro JC and has shown to be quite the speed burner. What’s even more impressive about Jones is he’s going into a position that is pretty deep to begin with and making a great impression on the coaches. He will be around in the fall.
Jack from Rowlett
Q: The only one not mentioned was Akpunku at DE. Is this just an experiment or is it likely to happen? Missed yesterday. What about OL Jeremy Bean?
A: Editor’s error on not having Akpunku in at first, that’s what happens when switches are made midstream. It’s easy to see why some people would think moving AK to defensive end is an experiment but I can tell you this is not the case. Akpunku might have been playing out of position at linebacker and now has found a home at DE. His strength, speed, and footwork is what’s going to make him successful. I can’t explain it was well as coach Mike Nelson did yesterday so I would recommend going back to yesterday’s interview we did with him and giving that a listen as to what Akpunku will be a success.
Jeremy Bean is out this spring with an injury but will be fine come the fall. From all indications he’s a guy who will be able to come right in and compete for playing time. At the Offense and Defensive line’s, you can never have enough depth and guys available at those spots.
James from Mississippi
Q: I would like to hear about the Mississippi players. Seems like when asked the question on Hollivay and I saw him play don't under estimate because he was still learning the system compared to the players you mention that have been in the program for 3 years or more due to a redshirt. No April Fool's joke here... On a serious note, the stadium will be full of Miss. fans when they come to Alabama and we will support the team. Hollivay and Outlaw are talented even if their not from Texas. Will you use a two quaterback system?
A: Your all over the map James, but first answer is no there will not be a two-quarterback system. Coach Dodge has always said that and quite frankly can anyone really name a lot of places where that has worked?
The Mississippi players are quite plentiful and Shelton Gandy might be able to run for governor there one day. Remember the most production player from Mississippi people might forget about has been Cam Montgomery. He came via NE Mississippi JC two years ago. The WR’s, Outlaw and Jackson will both be impact players this year and are going to challenge to be in the starting lineup. It’s easy to see why those two were hot commodities.
Ira Smith has really come on late in the spring. He’s having to learn a new system though so don’t expect lighting type results but from day 1 but right now his biggest contribution has been making others around him better. The added competition has made the entire secondary and especially Royce Hill and Adryan Adams better this spring.