National signing day has come and gone, and North Texas Coach Todd Dodge and his staff did far better than any Sun Belt staff with a 5-31 three-year record could expect, landing eight three-star recruits.
With all eight of the three-star recruits being defensive players and six of them coming in from JUCO ranks, this is the kind of haul that should translate into the immediate help UNT's coaching staff needed entering their make or break season.
This appeared to be another very good job by UNT recruiting coordinator Chuck Peterson and the Mean Green staff, although Coach Dodge credited the New Mean Green Stadium as being a major positive in recruiting and specifically gave his players credit with closing the deal with a number of recruits .
According to Rivals.com, UNT finished fourth in the Sun Belt by total points in the Rivals system but ended the day higher in some key areas. The average stars for UNT was 2.36 , which put them third in the Sun Belt behind FIU and MTSU.
No one in the Sun Belt landed any four-star recruits this year, but UNT finished with eight three-star recruits—tying with MTSU for third best in the Sun Belt behind Troy (10) and FIU (10).
Here are your new members of the Mean Green:
Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Hometown (HS) Rivals Star Ranking Speed
Christopher Bynes WR 6'1" 210 Coffeyville (Kan.) CC ** 4.6
Brelan Chancellor KR/WR 5'9" 170 Copperas Cove, Texas **
Jamize Olawale TE 6'2" 237 El Camino (Calif.) CC **
Graylan Hawkins LT/TE 6'4" 250 Dallas, Texas (Skyline HS) **
Antonio "Tony" Johnson LT 6'6" 270 Diboll, Texas (Diboll HS) **
Mason Y’Barbo C/G 6'2" 290 Sulphur Springs, Texas ** 5.52
Brandin Byrd RB 5'11" 185 Copperas Cove, Texas ** 4.5
Derrick Teegarden QB 6'0" 170 Odessa, Texas ** 4.58
Blake Dunham ATH/ST 6'1" 200 Argyle, Texas (Argyle HS) **
Zach Olen K 5'9" 210 Richardson, Tex. (Berkner HS) **
Richard Abbe DT 6'4" 300 Lubbock, Texas (Monterey HS) **
Aaron Bellazin WDE 6'2" 230 Everman, Texas ***
Michael Miller SDE 6'3" 260 Antelope Valley (Calif.) CC **
Zachary Orr MLB 6'0" 240 DeSoto, Texas (DeSoto HS) ***
^Brad Graham OLB 6'1" 210 Navarro JC *** 4.6
^Forlando Johnson WOLB 5'11" 205 Butler County (Kan.) CC ***
Steven Ford CB 6'0" 190 Fort Scott (Kan.) CC *** 4.4
^D’Leon McCord CB 6'1" 185 Butler County (Kan.) CC **
D’Andre Wood CB 6'0" 192 New Mexico Military Institute *** 4.4
Will Wright S 6'2" 200 Garland, Texas ** 4.5
^Ryan Downing S 6'1" 200 Butler County (Kan.) CC ***
^Jamison Hughes S 6'1" 200 Peark River (Miss.) CC ***
^ New players already currently enrolled at UNT who are likely participate in spring practices.
In the video at the Mean Green site linked above, they have clips with Todd Dodge breaking down the class.
The following notes are in part pulled directly from Dodge's statements as well as my thoughts after listening to Dodge, watching the clips, and tracking down info elsewhere.
Keep in mind that usually some players flake out and never see the field, get injured, or run afoul of a coach. Other players aren't utilized properly. It is very easy to be optimistic on signing day, but the yeild is almost never as good when the players actually hit the field.
Byrd: Dodge sees a lot of Lance Dunbar in him. I can see the ability to break off long runs in space, but the kid is only 185-pounds, so let's call it freshman Lance Dunbar, not the Dunbar of last season. No reason to saddle the kid with those kinds of expectations yet. His size mirrors Dunbar's at the same point in their careers.
Bynes : He may challenge for the third and last starting WR spot. He looks pretty polished. Dodge expressed that he was suprised UNT didn't lose him to a bigger program. Dodge says he reminds him of former UNT WR Brandon Jackson and calls him a very physical receiver. Bynes has two brothers playing scholarship football.
Chancellor: Had four kick returns returns for TDs in high school. I wonder if he might be the primary or secondary kick returner next season? I think he has a shot there. A big play guy running reverses from the slot. Dodge uses the word "explosive" to discribe him. The video clips show him being very explosive and fast out of the slot. Designated reverse guy?
Olawale: Looks like an H-Back type receiving TE. Not a lot of sand for blocking, but showed pretty good speed on the clip; Olawale took one to the house on a very nice bomb.
Hawkins: Looks a lot lighter than 250. Looks like a TE today. Dodge says they might play him a little at TE early on.
Johnson: Former two-year starter at TE in high school. Spent senior year at LT. Looks like a left tackle today. May grow into a right tackle.
Y'Barbo: Powerlifter. Looking at the clips, looks like a guy who could potentially challenge Jeremy Bean and Coleman Feeley at the open guard spot if he is mature enough. Locks up well and looks like an FBS player in terms of size, strength, and aggressiveness. Played Guard in HS. Dodge sees him as a center who can play guard.
Teegarden: Runs around and can throw the ball on the run. He looks like another spread QB. Watching the clips I thought of Chase Bain, but really you need a ton more video to evaluate a QB.
Dunham: Played a number of positons in high school: LB, TE, DB, RB. Possible designated kick blocker? He doesn't have the sped you generally want for that, but it is as much a knack as speed to block kicks. Looked pretty good doing a lot of different things in high school. I see a LB. Maybe getting more grief than he deserves. He looks like a talent that legitimately might have earned a scholarship from an FBS program.
Ohlen: Dodge says he kicks the ball high and deep. Strong leg. Very accurate 35 yards and in. Dodge thinks Ohlen is pretty clutch.
Abbe: A former HS left tackle. Dodge called him athletic. The clips were of him playing tackle. He looked good and tough, but looks a little stiff to me. He moves like a run-stuffing DT. He looks like he is strong enough to push his man around and probably hold position in the Sun Belt. Defensive line coach Mike Nelson liked this kid.
Bellazin: Played DT and LB. Projects to DE. His highlight films had him making a lot of plays in the backfield. That could be a little misleading as he was beating much slower guards, but on the flipside it does suggest he plays good technique and can hold his position vs. bigger offensive linemen. Not that it would be a suprise, but he could be a good weak-side DE today.
Miller: Dodge smiled when he talked about this kid. Recruited by DL coach Nelson. Dodge says he'll be "pretty special" here. There were only a couple of clips and he made plays, but while they didn't show me greatness, Dodge said he and staff did see a lot on the film. Maybe he does a lot of things technically correct. Maybe they didn't share the best plays. We will see.
Orr: His father had a 10 year NFL career. Orr looks like a guy who could take that starting job MLB if he comes in with the right attitude and no ego. He looks like a FBS player—big and strong. Dodge had a lot to say about Orr, "This is a banger!...very pasionate about the game of football...student of the game."
Graham: Dodge called him a "tackling machine". Had a very nice run in high school and won the Texas JUCO Defensive Player of the Year award for his play. This is a guy who seems to roll right down the LOS to stop players for little to no gain. 4 INTs in a JUCO season. Do not be suprised if he takes a starting job at OLB.
Johnson: He looks smaller and shorter than listed so I have listed him at his initally reported height and weight, but wow, does he ever look good on film! He looks like a little bullet exploding into the backfield and taking down runners behind the LOS. I have not been able to track down his speed, but he plays the game like he might run a 4.5. He gets in the mix.
Ford: This guy might be the most interesting player landed. One gets the feeling that the staff thinks they found a diamond in the rough. Ford advised Brett Vito in an interview for the Mean Green Blog that he was recruited by UNT with the idea he would be the team's shut down corner. He clearly played a lot of press man coverage in the JUCO ranks and is a former HS WR. He also plays the run well. Although his film doesn't suggest elite play, I would not be suprised if he ended up the season as our No. 1 CB.
Mccord: Dodge mentioned that this guy was a special teams star at the JUCO level. That may be his role here. His clips show him stepped back about 5-10 yards. I don't see anything in the clips to suggest he will be the press CB we have needed for years.
Wood: Really fast. He is very good at submarining a runner heading outside. It is unclear how well he covers in man, but he can catch a misthrown ball and is very dangerous running it. (I kind of wonder if he might figure in on punt returns.) Rivals thinks a lot of him.
Wright: The video clips were good plays. He looks like a player who will put someone on his ass. May not play much immediately due to the depth, but he looks like someone who will play eventually. He mentioned playing on special teams in an inteview with Brett Vito. I was excited to see Wright recorded 9 INTs in a season. Could he be the ballhawking FS we have needed? (He was recruited as a SS.)
Downing: Mentioned at FS and SS. If his highlights are any indication, he could be a top notch safety and possibly a team leader. A lot of DBs don't get there to make plays, but this guy does. The video does give a fairly good view of his game. He has speed and will put someone down on the ground. He can blitz. He may be able to cover. He locks on to a runner and puts him down. Additionally it appears he may be able to make some plays on the ball for interceptions.
Hughes: An FBS defensive coordinator's son. What comes through on the film is the discipline. The guys moves with purpose. He keeps his body parallel and strings plays out well. Once an opponent commits, Hughes has the explosion and speed to close and take the runner down. He works through blocks. Appears to have decent hands. Looks like a textbook SS to me.
Other thoughts from Dodge in the Q&A session:
"The more man coverage guys you can get, the more you (can) come after the QB..."
"I can see Zack Orr playing a lot early. Chris Bynes...contributing to us."
Sees all of the new recruits being a "huge help" in the team's pass rush.
If he wanted to sum up the goal of the program this offseason he would say "bring in more tacklers."
Dodge said Mike Miller will be able to step into the starting Strongside DE spot, and Dodge projected that Belazine and KC Obi are going to get a lot bigger as they are in the strength program.
Finally, there was another "Forrest Rucker love" question where someone asked if the big, raw receiver who captures so many fans' attention would become a TE.
Dodge totally sidestepped the idea. He advised Greg Brown (a big freshman WR from last year) would be in the hunt at TE and that Senior DT Draylen Ross would as well—at least for the spring (It sounds like a trial period).
(Ross played in 12 games and started one game at TE as a freshman the year before Dodge arrived on campus. He also played TE and DE in high school.)
According to Dodge, highly prized 2009 TE recruit Austin Fitzpatrick or Olawale could also emerge at the spot. Finally Dodge advised that Bynes could also see some time at TE.
I was disappointed not to hear a single word from Todd Dodge about John Weber, a JUCO transfer from last season who was forced to red shirt last year due to injury. I would have expected him to be a frontrunner at a DE spot. That was a bit ominous.
After finally seeing clips of these new recruits at their best, it seems pretty clear why they were recruited. These guys may be a little undersized, but thay are fast playmakers who can tackle. They look like very solid players.
Expect to see a lot more blitzing on defense next year. Forlando Johnson especially might be utilized as a fifth rusher to great effect.
Last year the team was reworked with smaller, faster defensive ends. The coaches probably thought the front four would generate a pass rush, but the coverage was not there to get much of a pass rush. With little coverage or pass rush, teams were able to avoid rushed passes and interceptions.
Between improvements from last year's starters (nine of which are back) and new three-star competition at EVERY spot in the back seven, this team should be dramatically better in coverage.
Consider UNT's CB situation where Royce Hill (two star 2007 recruit with 4.52 speed) returns along with the fourth and fifth CBs in 2009 Robbie Gordon (two-star 2006 recruit) and Hilbert Jackson (two-star 2009 recruit with 4.6 speed).
Now they will face competition from two faster, more highly-ranked CBs in Wood and Ford (4.4 speed, three-star recruits), competition from McCord (a two-star), and possibly also from Ira Smith (three-star JUCO recruit with 4.4 speed in 2009), a starting safety for UNT last year.
With coaches' favorite starter Dawaylon Cook (three-star 2008 recruit with 4.5 speed) and backup Darrien Williams (two-star 2008 recruit with 4.5 speed) returning and competing with new arrivals Downing, Wright, and Hughes for the two safety spots, UNT can legitimately entertain moving Smith to CB.
It is not hard to imagine the competition yielding much better coverage results.
It looks like UNT's plan is to come after opponents. They may have the talent to pull it off in 2010.