North Texas’ defense quietly flipped from a liability to a strength a year ago. The Mean Green jumped from bottom of the league to top half in scoring and total defense and flexed defensive muscles against teams well above their weight class.
The bad news? Almost all of the top playmakers are gone. Linebackers E.J. Ejiya and Brandon Garner and cornerbacks Nate Brooks and Kemon Hall are the biggest losses. Overall, the Mean Green rank No. 110 in adjusted returning production, per SB Nation.
“That’s where we hope that we’ve established enough of a culture and that we’ve done a good enough job recruiting,” defensive coordinator Troy Reffett said. “Even though the new guys haven’t played a lot, they’re prepared.”
With both corners gone, safeties Khairi Muhammad and Taylor Robinson become the leaders of the defense. The pair combined for 125 tackles, six interceptions and four tackles for loss last season. Junior Cam Johnson has the inside track to start at one of the corner spots, but the other is a toss-up between Jordan Roberts and Keelan Crosby.
Defensive end LaDarius Hamilton returns after posting 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks a season ago. Dion Novil should slide over to nose tackle to give the Mean Green a disruptive force in the middle. The other end spot is up in the air.
Linebacker is the biggest question. Ejiya and Garner combined for 43.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks — not a typo. Reffett’s defense calls for disruptive linebackers. Jack linebacker Joe Ozougwu will have to take a step forward and be that next season. Senior Mike Linehan has the inside track for the weakside spot, but middle linebacker is still a critical open battle.
A ridiculous amount of production is gone from North Texas’ defense, but this is where recruiting should pay off. There are former three-star prospects competing at every spot on the depth chart. The offense returns almost all of its key contributors from a season ago, but the vast majority are seniors. To have the conference title-type season that this program deservedly expects, the defense has to maintain.
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