As a fan, I really don't have much of a right to demand anything from my college team.
In the grand scheme of things UNT doesn't charge me all that much in comparison to pro teams.
The kids do their best. I am not out there doing the work to get better, so really how much of a say can I have?
That said, I think I can at least hope for things.
These are the things I hope UNT implements and works on prior to the upcoming year.
There are quite a few.
1) I hope Riley Dodge will really focus on his footwork. I think he will end up being a dynamite QB for us, but his play needs to acknowledge reality. He doesn't have the biggest arm. He has to get his feet planted and properly step into his deep passes if he is going to have any shot at completing them and not getting picked off. If he were my son, I'd make him watch the Las Vegas Locomotives's games that are available to be watched for free from the UFL site.
The Locos' QB JP Losman offers the perfect lesson about why you have to get your feet set. Losman has an outright gun and is capable of shooting off an accurate pass 70 yards down the field, but he didn't learn to throw from a proper base in college. That is why he fell out of the NFL last season. If you watch his games you can see passes where his feet are set and he throws a perfect deep or medium pass and passes where he doesn't set his feet and step into his pass and the ball is totally off target.
2) I hope Todd Ford and Todd Dodge rethink their deep passing philosophy so they don't sabotage Riley Dodge. UNT's deep passing plays were slow developing and were geared to go to the outside receiver. They seemed to be designed where Riley waited for his man to get a step on the defender before throwing the ball (I could be wrong but that was my impression).
It is about 27 yards from mid field to the sideline and many of the deep passing plays to Outlaw were about 20 yards on the sideline. If I remember the Pythagorean theorem that means Dodge was throwing about 33 yards on his semi successful deep plays. I would treat his range as about 30 yards. He certainly can throw it longer, but when he does it is in the air too long and runs a chance of being picked off.
I would adjust the offense with that in mind. I'd put longer passes in the middle of the field; shorter passes on the outside. Give the guy a better chance to make plays.
3) I'd like to see the coaches give Riley Dodge a hot read that he, not the coaches on the sidelines, can make each play. I'd like to see him given freedom to run plays here and there without the team looking to the sideline.
Let him walk up to the line and if the CB is too close to his closest slot receiver and he doesn't see help in the middle, let him audible and send that nearest slot burner, be it Jackson (4.4) or Carey (4.5) straight down the field on a fly pattern with the other one crossing underneath as a secondary option.
Too many times it was appeared Riley Dodge and Lance Dunbar were non-plussed with the play calling. Give Riley some ownership in the offense.
4) I hope the coaches pay attention to the body language of Riley Dodge and Lance Dunbar. These are your offensive leaders. Too many times last year they were disgusted with the play calling as drives stalled out due to the coaching staff having Riley lob deep passes towards the end zone.
It isn't Riley's game and it takes the ball out of Dunbar 's hands. Any time the coaches see them getting frustrated and looking at the sideline like you guys are a bunch of dumbasses, call a play that amounts to a short halfback pass to Dunbar. That puts Riley in his comfort Zone and gets Dunbar back with the program.
You cannot expect to move the ball if the leaders of the offense are not on board.
5) I'd like to see Riley Dodge gain 10 more lbs. this off-season. He gained 10 Lbs last off-season.
It may only add five yards to his passing and not add any appreciable zip, but it almost certainly will make him more able to absorb a hit, which is important if Riley is going to run for 50 yards a game.
6) I'd like to see Riley Dodge focus on ball security a bit more. He fumbled a lot this year. That means teams will be actively trying to strip him of the ball next year.
He needs to really work on that or he will have problems there next season. Don't do too much.
7) I'd like to see the coaching staff playing all of our players in the best position to allow them to make plays.
For example, UNT needs a part time TE and a running down strong side DE.
Fifth year senior Draylen Ross was recruited because he excelled as a DE and TE in high school. He actually started a game at TE as a true freshman under the Darrell Dickey. The Dodge staff has been trying to make him into a DT, but he appears to be no more then a decent backup as a DT. He is simply too tall. That guy was born to be the part time TE and run down strong side DE. I hope this team doesn't repeat the mistake that cost Eddrick Gilmore a chance to play at his best spot.
Senior WR Breece Johnson caught 88 passes including an eye-popping 17 for TDs as a senior in high school. He has been described by Dodge as uncoverable in practice, but lacks the speed the staff likes. Why is this guy not deployed EVERY time we get inside the thirty and speed becomes minimalized? Our fast guys are not that polished. They seem to become less effective the closer we get to the end zone. Speed is not the answer to every problem.
Senior RB Micah Mosley is a power back with a very nice 4.6 yard average for his career. It would be a wise thing for the staff to give this senior some sense of responsibility by making him the designated short yardage back. Use your seniors. Give them responsibility. Even if they aren't starters task them with important jobs. Give them a platform from which to demand more from their teammates.
Junior Sam Roberson hasn't shown that he is going to crack the starting lineup or even the rotation at WR next season. Why not let him play some CB against taller receivers like 6-3 Lester Jean of FAU and that guy from Army who killed us, 6-10 Alejandro Villanueva. Wouldn't it be nice to have a tall CB who can challenge the lobs to him when UNT faces him next year? Roberson was a decorated ball hawking DB in high school who rung up 8 INTs his senior year. He can always move back to WR for his senior year when graduation clears the logjam and it is more likely that he will break into the rotation.
Senior WR Benny Jones apparently turned some heads as a WR in the last year's spring practice. I'd love to see him and the mix with the speed receivers.
Senior WR Mike Outlaw should be used as a tertiary option on short passing plays. The staff is not giving this guy a chance to excel by not allowing him to show off the fact that he can take a pass over the middle and take a hit. By trying to make him the go to guy and deep threat you are making his teammates dread passes to him. He's a fourth option the team is trying to make into a No. 1 guy. To be a No. 1 receiver you have to have the #1 receiver mindset. That I have seen, Lewis and probably Stratford have that mindset. You are diminishing Outlaw in his teammates eyes by asking him to do things others are more suited to do.
8) I'd like to see coherent and complete offensive game plans that the team sticks to for most of the game. This offense is rumored to be designed for maximum flexibility to allow it to take advantage of what an opponent gives you. Along those lines we should have run heavy games followed by pass heavy games at our staff's discretion. I didn't see a lot of that last year.
I'd like to see a plan that attacks our opponent's weaknesses relentlessly. They don't have enough guys to put a good cover guy on Lewis? Let’s get him 15 passes that game. I want to see relentlessness.
I want to see a team that is prepared for the reality of the nature of that individual game. When we play Troy , I want to see the team prepared to control the ball and focus on keeping Troy off the field. When we play Army, I want to see a team that recognizes they may have to kick five FGs to win. When we play FAU I want to see a team that recognizes we will likely be in a track meet. I want it obvious that the team gets what is likely needed each week.
And I want to see us sticking with these game plans.
Last year we played with the game plan for a quarter or two and then revert to our standard patterns most games when the opponent got up by seven.
This team has a full roster of offensive talent. I'd like to see the offense develop an attitude, follow the game plan all game, and start dictating to opponents.
You only make your players lack confidence in the staff when the staff gives up on what the players have been working on all week after the 1st quarter.
I'd like to see this team stick to the game plan (if it is somewhat working) even if the opponent goes up by 21 points. I'd like to see the offensive staff not panic and abandon the game plan until say five minutes left in the third—if they are having some success with it.
9) I'd like to see pronounced half-time adjustments. I think the playbook is probably thick enough that we can retire 3-4 disastrous plays at half time. If it was a disaster and an opposing defender was all over it, we don't need to try to do better running it in the second half. That guy is probably still going to be all over it.
Better to leave that for the week's practices to straighten out.
I saw half time adjustments on defense in the season's second half, but the offensive staff lagged behind. I'd like to see Coach Dodge really make that a personal area of responsibility. That will require him to take something of a less hands on approach to maintain that critical eye.
10) I'd like to see Coach Dodge get out of the play to play playcalling business. Todd Ford is the OC. By Dodge being so heavily involved in the play calling, you don't really know what you have in Ford. If Ford cannot cut the mustard, then he is effectively dragging the staff down by making Dodge spend his time covering for his failings.
If Ford can't do the job, Dodge needs to know. It isn't like he doesn't have options. He could demote Ford and give the OC responsibilities to WR Coach Clayton George. (George's resume suggests he might do better in that job than Ford.)
If Ford has that responsibility it frees Dodge to work on areas that really only the head coach can address.
10) I'd like to see personnel groups and philosophies for specific situations.
I'd like to see a personnel group that comes on once we get inside the 30. I'd like to see Stratford and Lewis paired with Lott and Breece Johnson. I'd like to see guys who run precise routes, can get physical in traffic, and still catch the ball. Johnson and Lewis proved in high school that they understand how to make plays in the red zone. (With apologies to Jackson , I don't see that from him yet.) Lott has extreme competitiveness and Stratford looks like a bull strong possession receiver—a No. 1 type.
I'd like to see a personnel group that comes in on short yardage (less than two yards for a first down). The team was a disaster in short yardage sets. I'd like to see our best run blockers on the field with Micah Mosley in the backfield.
I'd like to see short yardage personnel groups deployed in either a wildcat formation or in a double tight set that allows for an effectively run QB sneak.
Our best short yardage set last year was the wildcat set. It was very effective and got Riley Dodge out of harm's way. The problem was we almost never ran it. Considering Riley's skill set and injury history, we should almost always run the Wildcat in short yardage situations.
I think we could also put together a set to run either a traditional dive, a couple simple play action sets, or a QB sneak out of. Again, I wouldn't use Riley Dodge for that. He hasn't taken a lot of snaps under center and lacks a feel for reading interior blocking to be good at running the sneak. Plus he is small and fragile. I'd task that to fourth string sophomore QB Derek Thompson. He is our biggest QB at 6-4 223 lbs.
His job during games could be to take snaps from the backup center, practice his handoffs to Mosley, and make sure he's ready to go.
I'd like to see larger DE's on the field on first downs and short yardage situations. Last year UNT's opponents were able to turn the Mean Green DEs too easily creating gaps and paths through our defense. I'd like to see guys on the field with a little more sand in their back pockets.
11) I'd like to see a halfback pass attempt twice a game.
The reality is that Riley does not have a big arm. To help stretch the defense vertically, the time tested technique is the half back pass. By running it twice a game, the opposition is always going to have to respect the speed on this roster, helping our running game.
12) I'd like to see Dunbar get bigger and better. I'd like to see him gain another five pounds or so—putting him at 207 lbs. I'd like to see him really focus on always ending any run with a last second hard and low push forward for another yard. If Dunbar can turn his 2 yard gains against tough defenses into three yard runs, opponents will not be able to remove him from the game plan.
If Dunbar wants to become an unstoppable force, he has to be able to consistently gain 3 yards vs. well coached and talented defenses.
13) I'd like to see the emergence of Junior BJ Lewis. I have seen enough of him to think that the emergence of Lewis and Stratford is the key to this team becoming a deadly red zone threat. To me, he is the real deal as a deep threat and red zone target, even if Carey and Jackson are faster.
The problem is, I am not the coach. I think there is a fairly good chance the brain trust of this staff benches Lewis, not Outlaw to put Stratford into the starting lineup. Lewis needs to have a stellar off-season to make this staff recognize how good he is. He likely needs to be the best receiver on the field to stay on the field in the fall.
He needs to run the correct route every time. It needs to be run precisely. He needs to try to shave a little time off his 40 and when he does let the staff know that he is a speedster too.
Lewis needs to get in WR coach Clayton George's ear and tell George repeatedly that Lewis is going to play so well that he will not allow a situation to arise that allows George to bench him. He needs to tell him repeatedly that he is going to be the No. 1 receiver on this team and back it up each and every day in practice with consistent good play.
Lewis has the skills to succeed at the college level and was the kind of go-to money receiver in high school that this team has needed. He needs to display the attitude of a Michael Irvin to stay in this starting lineup. Frankly, this off-season may be his career.
14) I'd like to not see any more of Forrest Rucker for at least a year. I don't mean to hate, but this team is loaded with receivers ready to contribute now. Rucker isn't one of them. He needs a great deal of time spent working off the field before he should be able to steal plays from more refined guys like Lewis, Outlaw, and Lott.
At this point he is a mistake and drop machine. It really isn't fair to the seniors on the unit for the coaching staff to give PT to guys like this.
Let him fight for PT when guys like Outlaw, Jackson, Johnson, and Jones have graduated.
15) I'd like to see most of the returning starters on the OL gain 5-10 Lbs of (hopefully lower body) muscle and improve their technique in run blocking to help when we need to root people out to gain 2 yards. So...Estaban Santiago (296->301), Victor Gill (261->271), Kevin Drake (280->290) and JJ Johnson (283->293).
16) I hope Juniors Matt Tomlinson and Coleman Feeley and Senior Jeremy Bean develop well over the off-season and really push for starting jobs, making everyone get better on the offensive line.
17) I hope the coaching staff reach a coherent and unified decision on what type of defense they want to run. I think last year's team was much better when they adopted a stop the run first philosophy late in the year. I think they opened the year thinking the offense would get out to big leads and the defense would be able to sell out the run to use smaller players to attack the pass. The problem was the DBs were not coached to take any risks, so the team essentially played a prevent defense for most of the season.
If DeLoach prefers to sell out to stop the run first and then plays a bend, don't break style vs. the pass assuming the opponent's passing game will make a mistake, then let’s go with that. If he wants to try to go after the pass with the increased speed and talent added in the back seven that is fine too, but if we do that, the CBs have to be coached to go after misthrown passes.
The defense was coached to serve two philosophies last year. That doesn't work. I want to see a clear sensible defensive philosophy—hopefully which ever one fits the personnel best—and all players coached in a way that supports that philosophy.
18) I hope we will see some size at the DE spots, especially on 1st downs and short yardage. I'd like to see some combination of Junior John Weber (288), Sophomore LaChris Anyiam (287), Draylen Ross (292), and maybe even Senior Sam Owusu-Hemeng (242) filling the two DE spots on early downs and short distance.
19) I hope Brandon Akpunku is on the field at the weak side end opposite one of the big guys on passing downs. Akpunku is just too damned good of a pass rusher to have sitting on any passing plays. I would like to see him teamed with someone big who can mount a power rush to flush more QBs into Akpunku. One of the big tragedies of last season was that Gilmore and Akpunku were not on the field together for the season. Their pass rushing games were complimentary.
20) I am hoping this is a fantastic season for UNT defensive tackles. Late in the season Tevinn Cantly emerged as a pretty decent starting DT who was capable of playing some minutes. That is a huge accomplishment for a red shirt freshman. I'd like to see him really assume ownership of one of the DT spots. I'd like to see him really work on his body and an take an attitude that he will play so well and be in such good shape that the staff will not be able to afford to take him off the field for long.
I'd also like to see Seniors Shavod Atkinson and Kevin Jackson drop about 10 lbs of fat each and show up in much better shape. (Feel free to convert it into muscle, guys!) I'd like to see them play the season in the 300-303 range. These guys are very good DTs, but the plain reality was they weren't in good enough shape to leave out there all game long. That is just a tragedy. These guys both flashed NFL prospect talent and were our best DTs by a good margin last year. I'd hate to see them not ever get a shot at a pro job because they didn't work hard enough leading into their senior year. Both guys also need a lot of technique work as well to scratch their potential.
Thus far one would have to say Ross is not a DT. I hope if he doesn't seem to be making progress in the spring the coaching staff will let him play DE and TE. Senior DT Jesse Desoto seemed to be coming on before he went down. I am not sure if his frame can take more weight, but I hope he has a very good off-season of lifting and rehabilitating. I have a feeling he will be a very good, playmaking backup this year.
21) I hope for a dramatically better year at the OLB spots. I am very grateful that JUCO star OLBs Forlando Johnson and Brad Graham for transferring in. Both are three star recruits. I think we were painfully thin at OLB and it didn't bring out the best in the starters. I hope they either push our returning starters to become better players or take their jobs. There weren't enough plays made on defense last year and a lot of that falls on the OLBs and their coach David Rausch. No excuses this year. The talent is clearly there with 4 guys who could be dynamite.
I am pretty comfortable with the MLBs. Senior AJ Penson is workman-like and from my vantage point I thought he was pretty good. His backup Sophomore Daniel Prior was well regarded coming out of high school.
22) I hope our CBs are 1000x better at playing the ball this year than last year and that our safeties continue to improve on their play. It seems the staff is again trying to really improve the pass defense. Hopefully some of these guys can make plays - last year UNT had only four INTs through 11 games before collecting three in the last game against a freshman QB.
The coaching staff loves Junior DaWaylon Cook and compare JUCO three star recruits Ryan Downing (6-1 200) and Jamison Hughes (6-1 185) to him, which I guess from them is high praise. I consider Cook to be a tweener CB/S type. Covers better than a safety, but not so well as to make his money playing CB. I was worried he's miss some tackles after seeing the fall scrimmage, giving up big plays throughout the year, but he did OK in that regard overall.
I thought Juniors Darien Williams and John Shorter were pretty good thumpers playing safety off the bench. The 195 lb Shorter was moved to OLB.
UNT went after a number of JUCO CBs to try to pair with Junior Royce Hill. Eventually they landed (6-0 185) D'Leon McCord, a two star recruit. It seems like there is a lot of talk that Senior Ira Smith (a starting safety last year) may be pushed over into the hunt at the other CB spot as well. I like him a lot as a player and think he might be able to pull it off. I also maintain hope that Senior CB Robbie Gordon will also be given a shot to produce. I thought he played pretty well when forced into the lineup at the start of the season, but I don't know if the coaching staff will give him a fair shot.
Hill really needs to step it up this off-season. If UNT is going to ever be a good defense, they need him to become a legitimate shut down cornerback. They need someone who will stay close to his man and will steal the ball if it is at all misthrown. They need someone who scares offensive coordinators into throwing the other way.
Last year Hill was regularly beaten for TDs and had at least one game where he gave up multiple TDs. Per UNT's official stats, he only had two interceptions and two pass breakups all year long. DE/DT Eddrick Gilmore had more passes broken up than Hill did. That is not the work of a star CB.
If Hill doesn't step it up, he may play a big role in getting this staff fired. If he doesn't become the player most people credit him with already being, he may spend his senior season on the bench under a new coach while some freshman hotshot starts ahead of him. UNT needs an indispensable No. 1 CB. Hill hasn't become that guy yet.
23) I am still hoping for a new special teams coach. Love Shelton Gandy, he's just not a great special teams coach.
With the dismissal of Mike Leach at Tech, I am hoping against logic that UNT might lure away their special teams coach Eric Russell. Russell spent 13 seasons at UNT and was a hell of a special teams coach. He would fix what has ailed this team on special teams throughout the Dodge years.
UNT probably lost three games last year due to special teams’ breakdowns. With only nine games that look winnable next season, can we really afford that?
I am hesitant to ask any more of Athletic Director Rick Villareal, who I consider one of the best in the country, but I would sure appreciate it if he could make it happen on his end to be able to gently offer Dodge another assistant coach slot to hire a top special teams coach. It would be sort of going out of his way to help Dodge and really (with no disrespect meant to Dodge) he may not deserve that, but you shouldn't cut off your nose to smite your face.
24) I hope for no more blocked kicks next season. UNT had several this year due to collapses up the middle. That should NEVER happen.
25) I hope for dramatic improvements in the return games.
I hope the coaching staff will realize what they have in Jackson and really work with him on learning to return kickoffs. He is potentially a 30 yard per return player with decent coaching. His high end is much higher than Royce Hill's. He just needs reps and coaching.
I hope the punt returners will practice what I call the 40 degree rule—that is you don't make more than a 40 degree cut otherwise you are going to draw an "illegal block on the return team" call. You have to mostly run north/south on punt returns. East/west running will draw a flag.
That's my list.
How many days until the 2010 season starts?