North Texas 2024 Roster Autopsy: Platoon change in Denton means new-look Mean Green

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North Texas Mean Green

2023 Finish: 5–7
Off. PPG: 34.5 (21st in FBS)
Def. PPG: 37.1 (131st)
Key Losses: QB Chandler Rogers, RB Ayo Adeyi, WR Ja'Mori Maclin, DE Mazin Richards, CB Phillip Hill, S Logan Wilson
New Faces: 28 signees, 21 transfers
Top Additions: QB Chandler Morris (TCU), OL Landon Peterson (Texas Tech), S Isheem Young (Ole Miss/Iowa State), LB JJ Jean-Louis (Iowa State), DE Jake Shipley (Oregon)

Offensive Overview

The positive spin on North Texas's 5–7 campaign was that Eric Morris' offense yielded a 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver for the first time in program history. Then, they and 22 others transferred in the offseason. Morris used to portal to nab former TCU quarterback Chandler Morris. But Morris won't practice until summer, and Stone Earle originally took the starting role over a presumed transfer heir named Chandler last season. Expect an epic fall camp battle: Morris beat out eventual Heisman runner-up Max Duggan in fall camp two years ago. But Chandler Morris should very much be considered the starter-to-be.

Coach Morris's scheme will get guys open. The question is - will the signal-caller have enough time? Gabe Blair and Jett Duncan are the two returning starters, but Blair will miss spring practice working back from a knee injury. Duncan is the front-runner to transition from his natural guard and tackle spots to center to replace Ethan Miner, the PFF's second-highest graded offensive lineman in the AAC last year who transferred to Mississippi State. Landon Peterson, who appeared in 36 games over five years at Texas Tech, was a nice transfer portal addition.

Projected Starters

Position Player Year
QB Chandler Morris Jr.
RB Zach Evans Soph.
Z-WR Damon Ward Sr.
Y-WR Blair Conwright Sr.
X-WR Jeremiah Aaron Jr.
H-WR Landon Sides Jr.
TE Oscar Hammond Jr.
LT Ma'Kyi Lee Jr.
LG Gabe Blair Sr.
C Jett Duncan Sr.
RG Landon Peterson Sr.
RT Larry Moore Sr.

Breakout Candidates

RB Tre Bradford – On LSU's first offensive play of the 2023 season, Bradford caught a 55-yard pass and was then put into Witness Protection Program for the year. Now, the Lancaster grad is back in the DFW area where he blossomed into a four-star in the class of 2020. Morris strays from most Mike Leach disciples with his emphasis on running the football, so Bradford should see more work in Denton.

WR DT Sheffield – Morris was the offensive coordinator on the Washington State staff that recruited Sheffield from Northwest Mississippi CC, where he was an honorable mention JUCO All-American. Sheffield didn't play in 2023, but the 5-foot-10, 174-pound wide receiver will get looks in an offense that splits four out wide.

OL Justice Guillory – Every offensive line spot is up for grabs in spring football, and Guillory might be the most experienced transfer of the bunch. He started 37 games over four seasons at Stephen F. Austin and was a First Team All-WAC selection in 2022. North Texas recruited him at guard.

Key Unit

Running Back – North Texas entered 2023 with four running backs who'd compiled over 1,000-career rushing yards. Only one, Ikaika Ragsdale, is still with the program, and he's nursing back to health this spring after tearing his ACL. Morris is a pass-happy, air-raid guy by trade. But the aerial attack only works if the ground game is humming, evidenced by North Texas finishing second in the AAC with 191.2 yards per game. Bradford is a breakout candidate, but Minnesota transfer Zach Evans has more game tape. He rushed 52 times for 230 yards in six games in 2023.

Biggest Question Mark

Who steps up as WR1? – Ja'Mori Maclin was a revelation for North Texas with 1,004 receiving yards, more than doubling the next closest receiver before transferring to Kentucky (noticing a trend?). Damon Ward (487 yards, 5 TD), Blair Conwright (385 yards, 2 TD) and Landon Sides (363 yards, 4 TD) are returners seeking a similar leap to Maclin in year two in Morris's system. The sheer number of pass attempts means everyone will get the rock, but who's the go-to-guy with the game on the line?

Defensive Overview

Eric Morris hired defensive coordinator Matt Caponi from Iowa State to build a defense in the image of the 3-3-5 stack, which gave Morris nightmares as an assistant coach at Texas Tech. It did not induce fear on American Athletic Conference foes. North Texas finished last in the conference in scoring defense (37.1), total defense (476.1 yard per game) and rushing defense (255.2 yards per game).

North Texas added a few key pieces to the defensive line but stopped short of an overhaul. Oregon transfer Jake Shipley should replace Mazin Richards, the team leader with 10.5 tackles for loss, at defensive end. Fort Worth Boswell defensive lineman Jaedon Langley enrolled early. Senior Roderick Brown is a fire hydrant in the middle of the defense, but he's one of two defenders listed at 300 pounds. Not ideal for a three-down front.

The linebackers will be equally crucial to improving the run defense, and they're an intriguing bunch. Jordan Brown (83 tackles) and Ethan Wesloski (63 tackles) are solid returners joined by high-upside Iowa State transfer JJ Jean-Louis.

Projected Starters

Position Player Year
DE Jake Shipley Sr.
NT Roderick Brown Sr.
DT Fatafehi Vailea Jr.
SLB JJ Jean-Louis R-Fr.
MLB Ethan Wesloski Soph
WLB Jordan Brown Sr.
STAR Isheem Young Sr.
CB Ridge Texada Sr.
CB Brian Nelson II R-Fr.
FS Jayden Hill Sr.
BS Evan Jackson Soph.

Breakout Candidates

S Jayven Anderson – North Texas added a bevy of secondary transfers this offseason, but Anderson proved he could play in 2023. The former all-state star at North Shore came on strong to close out his freshman season with at least six tackles in four of the final five games. Him and high school teammate Evan Jackson played well off each other at safety.

CB X'Avion Brice – Of the defensive backfield transfers, Brice possesses the most intriguiging athletic profile. The Texas transfer was a three-time all-district selections at Arlington Seguin playing quarterback, wide receiver and corner. He'll compete with Brian Nelson II to play alongside entrenched starter Ridge Texada.

DL Jaeden Langley – North Texas's struggles against the run are well-known, but Langley could provide instant help. The three-star is listed on the spring roster at 280 pounds, up 50 pounds from his high school playing weight. A lack of transfer interior linemen clears up Langley's path to playing time.

Key Unit

Secondary players – Where the 3-3-5 surrenders rushing yards, it can make up for by making a quarterback's life Hell with five defensive backs. North Texas ranked fifth in the conference in passing defense. Losing longtime cornerb Phillip Hill and safety Logan Wilson hurts, but senior Ridge Texada has broken up 22 passes in the last two seasons. Isheem Young was the Big 12's Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2020 at Iowa State when Caponi was on staff.

Biggest Question Mark

Does the 3-3-5 last all year? – It was a tough year statewide for the 3-3-5 defense that Iowa State made famous in the mid-2010s. TCU defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie was let go one year after reaching the National Championship. Caponi is back for a second year, but it took two games last season for him to stray from his coveted three-down lineman look into more even fronts. While pressure is generated from blitzing linebackers, the scheme ideally requires 300+ pound defensive linemen to stuff the run, bodies North Texas didn't have and didn't acquire in abundance. 

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