North Texas Daily

Football concludes 1st spring camp in Morris era with high hopes for 2023 campaign

Football concludes 1st spring camp in Morris era with high hopes for 2023 campaign

Football concludes 1st spring camp in Morris era with high hopes for 2023 campaign
April 29
12:00 2023

Football wrapped up spring camp with the annual spring game on April 22.

With a new coaching staff, the team spent the majority of camp adjusting to head coach Eric Morris’ new schemes and building chemistry. After the defense controlled the first two scrimmages, the offense surged in the spring game. 

“I thought it was good — back and forth,” Morris said of the exhibition. “I’m happy with where we are at now. We’re going to have a great summer and fall camp. Extremely happy of the way this team is working.”

Austin Aune’s declaration for the NFL Draft in January has left the quarterback position wide open for North Texas. Aune’s backup last season, junior quarterback Grant Gunnell, entered the transfer portal on Monday. Gunnell got the least reps of the four on-scholarship quarterbacks and did not play in the spring game. 

Junior quarterback Chandler Rogers transferred to the Mean Green over winter from the University of Louisiana-Monroe. The Mansfield, Texas native ranked No. 13 in NCAA Division I in 2022 with a 67.5 completion percentage. He completed 11-14 of his passes at the spring game. 

“[Rogers] threw some great balls — he threw a corner route that was unbelievable,” Morris said. “I thought Chandler [Rogers] had his best scrimmage by far [on Saturday].”

North Texas’ quarterback battle has been narrowed down to three players heading into summer and fall. Rogers, along with senior quarterback Jace Ruder and junior quarterback Stone Earle, will battle it out for the 2023 starting job. 

“They’ve all taken turns kind of having their bright spots,” Morris said. “Without grading this one yet, I thought all three of them did a great job. It’s a tight battle — we have three guys who are performing at a high level.”

Apogee Stadium on April 25, 2023. Maria Crane

Defensively, the Mean Green saw a scheme change in its base defense. For the last two seasons, North Texas ran former defensive coordinator Phil Bennett’s 4-2-5. The hire of defensive coordinator Matt Caponi from Iowa State has ushered in a 3-3-5 look on defense. 

A 3-3-5 decreases the number of players on the defensive line and adds a linebacker. Linebackers like senior Larry Nixon III now have more onus to fill running lanes and rush the quarterback. Nixon said he is content in his new role. 

“I enjoy it, especially my position — I love what I do now,” Nixon said. “It’s just fun — I love defense, and [Caponi’s] is a good one to learn. I honestly might steal it later on down the line.”

The departure of KD Davis in 2022 leaves a hole at linebacker to be potentially filled by three returners in senior linebacker Kevin Wood, Nixon and junior linebacker Jordan Smart. Wood missed the final stages of spring camp due to an injury, while Nixon and Smart played on the first team in scrimmages and the spring game. 

With the current linebacker corps having played together for the last three years, Nixon said chemistry had not been an issue. 

“As a team already, we have a lot of guys from last year coming back,” Nixon said. “The chemistry is already there — As a team, we just want to win.”

Defensive transfers like junior safety Phillip Hill from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas slotted into the first team in spring. Hill, along with senior safety Logan Wilson, junior safety Nick Nakwaasah and junior cornerbacks Ridge Texada and Loronzo Thompson made up the first-team secondary. 

Earlier in spring, Morris said he was impressed with Wilson’s play.

“Logan Wilson was really good on the perimeter [at] getting some big running backs down in key situations,” Morris said. “That was good to see — with us being able to play this defense, we’re going to have to tackle in space.”

For offensive specialty positions, sophomore receiver Ja’Mori Maclin stood out. Maclin recorded the highlight play of the spring with an up-and-over catch for a 15-yard touchdown. In Morris’ new modified air raid look, Maclin said the team got better over spring. 

“Over the first few weeks, it was tough at first, but everyone was still learning,” Maclin said. “Quarterbacks were getting comfortable with calling plays and signaling to receivers, [but] over the weeks, it got way better.”

With their first season in the American Athletic Conference looming, Morris and the Mean Green checked off a key milestone with spring camp’s completion.

“I’ve been really excited to see these kids buy in,” Morris said. “For us to win a conference championship in The American, we have to get a lot better from now until we strap it up against [University of California-Berkeley] in a couple of months.” 

Image Source Mean Green Sports

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Reed Smith

Reed Smith

sports editor

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