After breakout year, offense prepared to improve as camp opens

After breakout year, offense prepared to improve as camp opens

After breakout year, offense prepared to improve as camp opens
August 04
12:34 2018

Matthew Brune | Senior staff writer

When asked where this North Texas offense needs to improve over the next four weeks before the opening kickoff against Southern Methodist University, junior running back Nic Smith took a long pause before answering.

The Mean Green’s offense averaged 35.5 points per game last year, 13th in the country and second in Conference USA, and they return a heavy portion of their impact players. All of this makes the question “How much better can the offense be?” tough to answer.

Another second or two passed, then Smith answered.

“We just need to come out with energy every day and improvement will come with it,” Smith said. “We just have to come out with enthusiasm and just work.”

Smith fills the shoes of Jeffery Wilson who graduated last year and is now trying to find a spot in the NFL, and Smith is one of the few new faces in the starting lineup of this offense. With those hefty standards to live up to, Smith focused on a few specific aspects of his game over the spring and summer.

“Pass protection, finishing my runs and getting in the film room and getting smarter,” Smith said. “We lost a great one last year, so it’s starting to come back around.”

Meanwhile at receiver, junior Rico Bussey, Jr. will assume the full-time role on the opposite side of junior Jalen Guyton and on the inside, junior Michael Lawrence and sophomore Jaelon Darden will continue to be dynamic playmakers for sophomore quarterback Mason Fine.

The North Texas receiving corps was even ranked No. 6 in the country by Bleacher Report last month, displaying the talent on the outside.

“We have a lot of playmakers on this offense,” Fine said. “We have a lot of great guys coming back, and we have a lot of new guys stepping up. [We need] to be on the same page, go 100 percent and let our playmakers make plays, which is my job. I think I have the best receivers in the country, and even with the success we had last year, they’re hungry to be more successful.”

Fine returns stronger and ready to live up to the incredibly high expectations set from last year’s nine win season where he broke numerous single-season passing records as only a sophomore.

His offensive coordinator is once again Graham Harrell, who is prepared to use all of the returning weapons they have in order to repeat their output and maybe surpass it.

“We’ve addressed that the expectations have been raised around here, and that’s what winning does,” Harrell said. “Two years ago they tell you you’re not going to win a game, then two years later they tell you you’re going to win them all. We have high expectations for ourselves, and the key is to keep improving.”

One area Littrell always stresses has been the play of the offensive line. In his first season, the Mean Green had one of the worst offensive lines in the FBS statistically, but last year showed a improvement despite still needing work.

The offensive line returns four of their five normal starters in seniors Jordan Murray and Riley Mayfield and juniors Sosaia Mose and Elex Woodworth. The hope is their continuity can grow together from last season.

“I’m excited about the amount of guys we have coming back that have a lot of game reps,” Harrell said. “The one thing you can’t replicate is game reps. They should be ahead and they should be advanced. We’re a little beat up right now, but like I said, we have a lot of game reps and because of that we should be further along than usual.”

The first day of fall camp ended as most practices do, with about 30 minutes of an offense versus defense scrimmage. Neither side is anywhere near 100 percent, but with the amount of returning players, it felt like they just picked up from the spring.

Freshman quarterback Kason Martin had a good amount of snaps, but the defense repeatedly gave any quarterback not named Fine a hard time.

On offense, Guyton saw a lot he liked in the first fall practice of his second year.

“I liked the tempo,” Guyton said. “This is the first day out, so we’re fresh, but it’s our first day doing this type of cardio. We stayed sharp on the plays, a lot of the young guys got the plays with not too many busts. It was a solid first practice and we can go up from here.”

A similar question as the one asked to Nic was posed to Littrell after practice, with a much different answer.

While it may seem like the offense can not get leaps and bounds better, there are still improvements Littrell wants to see out of his offense.

“We have to continue to grow within our situational parts of the game, and we have to continue to learn how to protect the football,” Littrell said. “That’s something that hurt us at times last year and it’s something we really stressed.”

Featured Image: File

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North Texas Daily

North Texas Daily

The North Texas Daily is the official student newspaper of the University of North Texas, proudly serving UNT and the Denton community since 1916.

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