I attended UNT's last scrimmage of the preseason this morning. I've tried to list my thoughts. I was a little disappointed in that I really was not as focused on the lines as I had hoped to be for this review—it is a lot easier to scout line play when you can replay it over and over at home or on video.
My overall impressions were that the team has enough talent to compete and or win in at least eight of the games on their schedule, but they still look more like an FCS school or 5A Texas high school team sizewise than an FBS school. The defense looked strong. Their coverage was pretty darned good and they were generally good against the run. Last year three-and-outs were quite rare. They will be a lot less rare this year.
The offense is harder to evaluate. It is so pass heavy and this defense is designed to be a lot stronger vs. the pass, that the passing game is likely much stronger than it looked today. I was disappointed in the amount of east/west running that took place by backs and WRs. They seem to think they are a little more skilled than they seem. Among the WRs only Jamaal Jackson showed any real talent at making players miss, and even his elusiveness was not that great compared to receivers on other teams.
In my opinion, the team would be much better served by adopting a more aggressive stance about striving to be north/south runners, especially the receivers after the catch. UNT's depth at OT doesn't look that strong. I think the second and third team defensive line looked a little better than they are because of the poor offensive line play. Finally, sacks were called when a defender was unblocked and near a QB which explains the number of sacks.
As far as individual players go, I liked what I saw from WR Darius Carey. He's apparently been showing flashes of brillance for the last few weeks and he did so again today. He is likely to be a very productive receiver. He has good hands and immediately looks to get upfield. I liked the team's leading returning receiver Alex Lott as well for the same reason, but he seems a bit of a forgotten man with all the new faces in the receiving corps. WRs Jamaal Jackson, BJ Lewis, and Tyler Stratford looked solid if unspectaular.
I was not a fan of WR Chris Brainard, the freshman out of Southlake. Clearly Riley Dodge and the coaching staff have a level of comfort with him, but I saw very little that suggested he should be getting more attempts thrown his way than the other receivers. (I don't mean to knock the kid too much as it isn't his fault. He is just working hard.)
The running backs all looked strong. I felt a little bad for Michah Mosely. It looks like he is a bit of a forgotten man in the backfield with the emergence of Lance Dunbar last year and Jeremi Mathis this year. I'd still love to see UNT punish people with Mosely after starter Cam Montgomery graduates. Mosely is bigger and moves well. He is one of those players who gets the imagination running.
Riley Dodge had decent control over they offense, but the play of the defense continuously took away his receivers and forced him to tuck it and run and he also threw some interceptions. It is a bit difficult to evaluate due to the familiarity the defense has with the offensive personnel. If pressed to predict how he'll play this year, overall I'd suspect he'd be a slight downgrade from what we have enjoyed the last two years passing-wise (more interceptions), but the running angle could make that up.
I loved the play of CBs Royce Hill and backup Robbie Gordon. They were really strong all day. S Ira Smith looked great. He showed great instincts and got where he needed to be.
To me S DaWaylon Cook was less exciting. I understand why he is starting: He shows good speed, instincts, and pretty solid cover ability, but I just get the feeling we will see a lot of missed tackles by him on potential big plays on the way to first downs and TDs. He does a lot of arm tackling and seems to have weak hands. LB Tobe Nwigwe was everything you'd want in your MLB. He made a number of big stops for no gain, but did miss a tackle or two. His backup AJ Penson was very solid as well. OLB Craig Robertson was also solid and flashed big play ability at times.
Backup OLB Jeremy Phillips is still a little small, but was a playmaking machine. If he continues to work, I'd be suprised if he doesn't end up stealing the bulk of the minutes at the third starting linebacker spot. Kelvin Jackson, Shavod Atkinson, and Tevinn Cantly were as advertised. They generally controlled the run and got a good push vs. the pass. Night and day from last year. Defensive tackle Jesse Desoto has become a pretty decent all-around player.
Defensive tackle Joe Hawthorne has a chance to be a really nice player in two years when the junior college transfer's graduate. Defensive end Sam Owusu-Hemeng made play after play today. Where was that last year? I think he may have profited from the competition he faced.
Offensive tackle Matt Tomlinson solidified his hold on the third tackle spot, but if we have to go deeper on the depth chart, pass protection will be a problem. DEs John Weber and Brandon Akpunku also spent a lot of time in the backfield. It is a little clearer what the defensive concept is after watching the scrimmage. Opponents won't be changing out their tackles too much and clearly we are going to give them dramatically different body types and skills sets to block. It should work pretty well as long as the big three stay healthy.
The team gathered at midfield and repeated their offseason mantra. One guys says "we" and the team responds "will win". It seems a little cheesy to write or read about, but it is nice to see. And when you get down to it aren't all football chants cheesy when you think about them? It set a good tone for the scrimmage, and the 80-100 or so fans who got up early to watch the scrimmage seemed to be in a pretty good mood hearing it.
My notes. I tried to write an impression for each play, but I wore down as it got hotter.
- Nice catch by WR BJ Lewis.
- On the next three plays the offense went after Robbie Gordon who was starting with the first team unit. I Was really impressed with Gordon all day. On the first play he made a nice hit to breakup a pass. The second play he wisely conceded the pass and took his man down at the point of the catch for no further gain. The third play he made an interception. Just a really nice series for a corner.
- Defensive tackle Kelvin Jackson is a pretty good player. He made a nice stop in the middle of the field and was pretty active in the pass rush on some other plays. I thought he would just be a big guy who wouldn't be easy to move, but he is a better player than that. He was sucking air pretty quickly, but that is not that surprising considering he has been out a lot with foot trouble. He still plays at full speed.
- QB Riley Dodge broke a nice run upfield. He looks somewhat fast. That wasn't my impression last year. I can buy that he is up 10 Lbs from last year although he is still small.
- Dodge and WR Chris Brainard missed a deep shot. Without replay I couldn't tell how good the pass was—it may have been uncatchable, but my impression was Brainard quit on it a bit.
- RB Micha Mosely looked pretty quick/fast. A bit too much of an east/west run for my tastes, but you can see starter talent in him.
- A CB (probably Gordon as I was watching him a lot early and they were going after him often) locked up Branfield pretty well in coverage.
- LB Jeremy Phillips made a nice instinctive play on a run and stopped a RB in the backfield.
- I had a sack listed on the next play that I credited to Phillips in my shorthand.
- General observation. The offense looks a lot more simplified with backup QB Nathan Tune in there. It seems like he telegraphs his passes too much. His eyes never leave who he is throwing to and it doesn't seem like he is running through options—he looks pretty looked in on each play.
- Jeremi Mathis had a nice run. I had read about him being a tough inside runner but I hadn't seen him before. He has solid size and adequate speed. On this play he broke through a hole and bounced it outside for a good 15 yard run or so. I think he may lack the balance to ever be a really elite college back—someone got a hand on him on the run and he slowed down considerably to regain his balance. Still, he is an impressive back.
- Chase Blaine in. Similar type of QB to Riley Dodge.
- Sam Roberson made a nice catch over the middle.
- Chase Blaine put together this drive that netted a FG.
-First team defense in. Nice stop of a run in the backfield by the two junior college tansfer defensive tackles and middle linebacker Tobe Nwigwe. It got me very excited about the season and the I don't think I was alone in that.
-One of the coaches is complaining about the down marker being wrong again. Poor guy holding the down marker has blown it a couple times today and the coach is raging at him. I can understand being a little taken in. Poor guy just wants to watch the game.
- Riley Dodge is a runner. It is a little like watching Doug Flutie in college although I haven't seen anything to imply Dodge will have those kinds of passing skills or that sense of the rush. I do like the fact that he is always looking downfield when he runs.
- Coaches are yelling at Nwigwe for blowing a tackle on the last play. Nwigwe respond by making a nice stop on the next play. Good read and tackle.
- CB Royce Hill made an interception but I think they called it a sack. Brandon Akpunku and Sam Owusu-Hemeng probably get the credit.
- Another "sack" by the same two. They look really nice vs the pass in tandem. Could they be the pass rush answer?
- Excellent coverage by cornerback Royce Hill. He sealed wide receiver Michael Outlaw off on the sideline, keeping good position beteen him and the ball. In a game, I think he'd probably have gone for the pick and gotten it.
- Very nice run by running back Lance Dunbar. Broke a tackle at the line and took it outside for 20 yards.
- Something of a coverage "sack". Quarterback started to run and defensive end Brandon Akpunku got to him behind the line.
- Two nice catches in a row by a receiver with his jersey tucked in. A somewhat big possession receiver, the guy put a nice shot on a would be tackler gaining some extra yards. I asked the guys next to me what number that was. "88" they said. Looked up 88 and...that is our ineligible receiver Tyler Stratford, the OU transfer...sometimes you have to laugh not to cry.
-Backup quarterback Nathan Tune took off on a run. He actually moves pretty well for a pocket passer, but again he doesn't seem to be the kind of quarterback who is looking to pass before he takes off running. When he makes a decision that appears to be what he's going to do come hell or high water.
- Running back James Hamilton popped a nice run up the middle.
- Quarterback Tune and the offense seemed to come alive. "Smelled blood" I wrote. It struck me as a rare occassion when everyone seemed really excited and more motivated than normal. Tune completed a short pass to WR Willie Taylor and then RB Hamilton finished it off with a short run for the TD. Nice to see that kind of reaction to the red zone with Tune in there.
- Next series opened with a nice catch by WR Darius Carey. He has been talked about a lot this offseason but this was my first time to see him. He really excells at catching the ball and immediately attacking for positive yardage, sadly a bit of a rare trait with WRs on this team.
- Nice coverage on this play helped DE Tevinn Cantly get a sack on QB Tune.
- Decent run by RB Mathis. He has very good instincts and vision.
- Another catch by our ineligible WR Statford.
- DT Jesse Desoto made a nice stop on a running play. He is a pretty good run defender.
- WR Forrest Rucker makes a decent catch over the middle.
- Solid run by RB Mathis. He shows some speed.
- DE Joseph Nailor showing good quickness off the corner. Second time I have seen him beat his man. Possible sack.
- QB Dodge is always looking as he runs—a good sign.
- WR Jamaal Jackson short catch.
- RB Cam Montgomery lines up on the wrong side of QB Dodge. The coaches are screaming furiously for him to get on the other side and for Dodge to recognize it and get him on the right side. Montgomery stumbles into Dodge getting into the right position just as the ball is snapped. Minor tangling of feet between Dodge and Montgomery as the QB hands the runner the ball. Unproductive play. Kind of a low point. It is starting to get hot and mistakes are happening.
- Another WR Jackson catch over the middle.
- QB Dodge is back to pass and again is forced to run with no one open.
- Ball at the six yard line and Montgomery loses it. The ball ends up in DE Cantly hands and he starts charging down the field to the other endzone. It is nice to see the defense stiffen up in a first team vs. first team duel near the end zone, but this may be more of a negative with Montgomery being the real factor in the play.
- I asked a nearby fan what his opinion of the team was so far. He gave a mixed "eh".
- The personnel was being changed out pretty regularly at this point and it was getting hotter.
- TE Bryant Seidle extended nicely to bring in a high catch in traffic. A strong argument for more TE sets.
- LB Daniel Prior stepped up for a nice stop.
- DE Owusu-Hemeng and Prior made a nice stop in the backfield.
- DE Owusu-Hemeng and DE KC Obi got nice penetration.
- WR Darius Carey made nice catch. Always moving upfield.
- WR Chris Brainard catch sideline. First down.
- WR Kevin Dickerson catch on the side. One of three receivers on that side.
- WR Willie Taylor dropped a quick pass.
- DE's Obi & Weber and DT Desoto sack.
- QB Chase Blaine good speed upfield, runs with a good head of steam and is somewhat elusive.
- DT Joe Hawthorne stuffs middle run.
- WR Jackson catches pass over the middle.
- Pass to RB Jeremi Mathis for TD.
- WR Brainard escapes lousy tackling for 15 yard gain.
- WR Jackson catches another pass across the middle.
- DE Akpunku and Cantly in for sack.
- S Ira Smith intercepts pass. I think they called this a sack by DE Owusu-Hemeng. Owusu-Hemeng seemed a little tired/not mentally sharp in attacking tackle, but then the QB rolled out and Sam broke away from the blocker and got to the QB quickly.
- DE Owusu-Hemeng and LB craig Robertson combine for a nice stop.
- Lineup changeout.
- OLB Steve Warren good penetration on pass rush. Jumps high and is disruption on pass attempt. Good job.
- WR Alex Lott makes a nice catch and aggressively finishes his run.
- WR Carey makes a nice diving catch.
- OLB Jeremy Phillips gets everyone's attention by singlehandedly defeating a WR screen. He beat the WR assigned to block him and laid the smack down on the WR who caught the pass. He's shown a lot today.
- OLB Phillips follows that with a nice tackle.
- DB Justin Chatman closed nicely in recovery to make tackle on WR.
- CB Chris Neal goes up to make INT on a ball that hung up there for a while—still textbook form by Neal. QB Derek Thompson a traditional pocket passer put that out there with too much float.
- WR Forrest Rucker caught another high, floating jump ball.
- First team back in.
- RB Cam Montgomery had a nice tough run. He runs too tall. Hopefully coaches will work on him a bit on that.
- RB Montgomery ran east-west breaking about four arm tackle attempts. Eventually he is taken down after about a three yard gain by CB Robbie Gordon.
- DT Shavod Atkinson was slow getting into his stance and a coach went off about it for what seemed like two plays.
- S Cook had nice coverage on pass attempt.
- CB Gordon had great coverage on WR BJ Lewis on an attempt to lay the ball into the corner of the endzone and broke up the pass. Really nice play.
- WR Lewis seems to have pretty good size and straightline speed.
- S Cook hangs on to drag down a runner with one arm.
- S Cook blows arm tackle in backfield and running back runs into end zone for TD. Have a feeling we will see this a lot this year.
- HB Micha Mosely has a nice run to the outside.
- QB Tune hit ineligible WR Stratford who tries to elude tackler and ends up losing a couple yards.
- HB Mosely tough run. It is a shame he won't get more carries.
- Mosely lined up as essentially a FB and made a competent block.
- QB Tune runs it in, but the ball is marked at the two.
- QB Chase Blaine throws a nice TD pass to Sam Roberson.
- Coaches yelling for TE Siedle but he's not paying attention, so the team moves back five yards for delay of game.
- QB Thompson in.
- DT Hawthorne collapses OL and engulfs RB at line.
- QB Blaine tries to hit same route he hit the TD on, ruled a sack.
The scrimmage ends.
We ...will win!
We ...Will win!