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North Texas Mean Green Unit Preview: Linebackers and Defensive backs

The Mean Green linebackers return their star player while the defensive backs will have to use experience to make up for losing theirs

NCAA Football: North Texas at Rice Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Linebackers

E.J. Ejiya - RSSr – 14 starts, 109 tackles, 12 TFL, 7 sacks

Tim Faison - RSJr – transferred from Independence Community College

Joe Ozougwu - RSSo - 11 games, 2 starts, 18 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks

Brandon Garner - RSSr – 14 games, 13 starts, 68 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 2 sacks

William LeMasters - RSJr – 5 games, 7 tackles

Mike Linehan - RSJr – did not play last season

Corey Mann - RSSo – 4 games, 3 tackles

Chris Thornton – RSFr – did not play last season

Just like the North Texas offense gets Mason Fine back at quarterback, linebacker E.J. Ejiya returning was just as important for the defense.

Ejiya, a redshirt-senior, led the Mean Green in tackles (109), tackles-for-loss (12) and sacks (7) last season on his way to earning All-Conference USA honorable mention recognition. This season, he’ll lead a group that likely features fellow starters Brandon Garner and Joe Ozougwu.

Ozougwu also earned postseason honors last season after being named to the C-USA All-Freshmen Team. He tallied 18 tackles, five for a loss, and two sacks in 11 games as a redshirt-freshman. Two of those appearances were starts.

Garner adds more experience to the core with 13 starts last season, during which he recorded 68 tackles, 6.5 TFL and two sacks.

UNT’s fourth linebacker spot is still up for grabs among the newcomers, including Last Chance U’s Tim Faison, who transferred from Independence Community College. Faison, who committed to Purdue as a three-star prospect out of high school, didn’t arrive on campus until this summer after graduating later than expected from ICC. He was expected to quickly compete for a starting job, but the late arrival, as well as reportedly missing a few practices for different reasons, has slowed down Faison’s progress. However, because of his talent and experience, as well as UNT’s inexperience at linebacker, Faison could still find himself with that fourth starting role on the outside.

Depth Chart

OLB - Ejiya/Thornton

ILB - Garner/Linehan

ILB - Ozougwu/Mann

OLB - Faison/LeMasters

Defensive backs

Nate Brooks – SR – 12 games, 8 starts, 31 tackles, 2 pass break-ups

Kemon Hall – SR – 14 starts, 72 tackles, INT, 8 pass break-ups

Ashton Preston – SR – 14 games, 10 starts, 41 tackles, 3 pass break-ups

Jameel Moore – JR – 3 games, 1 tackle

Tyreke Davis – SO – 14 games, 17 tackles

Tre Siggers – RFR – did not play last season

Khairi Muhammad – JR – 14 starts, 94 tackles, 1 pass break-up

Makyle Sanders – SO – 12 games, 9 tackles

With such a stellar passing attack and most likely spending a majority of games ahead on the scoreboard, UNT’s defensive backs will have quite a task in 2018.

Fortunately for those defensive backs, going up against UNT’s passing game in practice, with the likes of Mason Fine and Jalen Guyton, can only make them better. That improvement will be needed for the position group who will probably be tested the most this season because of the Mean Green’s style of play. The squad will also need to improve after giving up 229 passing yards a game last season and bringing in only five interceptions. Of those picks from the group, safety Kishawn McClain had two, and the Mean Green have to replace McClain and his 14 starts.

Khairi Muhammad, a junior, returns at safety for UNT. He tallied 94 tackles last season, starting in every game. Senior cornerback Kemon Hall also started every game, totaling 72 tackles and a team-high eight pass break-ups.

Hall and Ashton Preston, a senior, will bring a plethora of experience to the Mean Green’s corners this season. Preston started in 10 games last season, but appeared in all of them, recording 41 tackles and three pass break-ups.

The safety spot next to Muhammad will be the only player lacking quality game time. Tyreke Davis, a sophomore, could get the nod there, and despite appearing in every game last season, most of his playing time came on special teams. He had 17 tackles.

Tre Siggers, who redshirted last season, could also earn the starting job after a stellar offseason. Sophomore Makyle Sanders is the only other safety with experience, getting nine tackles in 12 games last season.

As for the cornerbacks, senior Nate Brooks gives the reserves a veteran, starting in eight games last season with 31 tackles and two pass break-ups. Brooks could also battle Preston for a starting job.

Depth Chart

S - Muhammad/Sanders

S - Davis/Siggers

CB - Hall/Moore

CB - Preston/Brooks