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After productive practices, here are 5 things to watch in Friday’s UNI football spring game
Will new offensive line hold up enough for quarterbacks to operate dynamic offense?
CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa football coach Mark Farley is pleased with the progress his team has made in spring practices.
That progress is set to culminate Friday night at the UNI-Dome as the Panthers will kick off a roughly hour-long spring game at 7.
There’s plenty to watch for in Friday night’s exhibition. Here are five things to watch closest.
1. Clean pockets
With four new starters set to debut on the offensive line, will returning All-Missouri Valley Football Conference quarterback Theo Day and UNI’s other signal-callers have the time in the pocket they need to operate Bodie Reeder’s dynamic offense?
While it’s difficult to judge without the benefit of a genuine, live game, it’ll be worth watching closely the integrity of the pockets Day, Aidan Dunne and others throw from Friday night.
2. Running back race
After the O-line, running back is UNI’s next most up-for-grabs position on offense this spring.
Farley recently told The Gazette that Harrison Bey-Buie and UTSA transfer Ty Edwards have both looked good this spring, but the wide-open competition also presents opportunities for the Panthers’ younger ball-carriers. Sophomore Josh Jenkins or Vanderbilt transfer Maurice Edwards could make a case for regular carries.
3. Defensive line depth
The very first thing Farley brought up when asked about his team’s progress this spring was the depth built this offseason along the defensive line.
Returning starters Khristian Boyd, Caden Houghtelling, Devin Rice and Cannon Butler each have proven an ability to produce, but a lack of depth last season sent their snap counts too high and limited their effectiveness.
A spring game is far from a great environment to evaluate pass-rushing skills among the new Panthers Farley was referencing. Still, the order in which guys like Cordarrius Bailey, Cartez Crook-Jones, Warren Peeples, Jack Kriebs, Malik Stewart and others rotate in is worth paying attention to.
4. Linebacker watch
A healthy debate can be had as to whether UNI’s two inside linebacker spots or three vacancies in its secondary are the bigger holes to fill this spring.
The graduations of Bryce Flater and Spencer Cuvelier — who started at linebacker multiple seasons — meant talent, and perhaps more importantly, a lot of football IQ left the program.
Farley and defensive coordinator Jeremiah Johnson have both said the talent is there at the position, but Johnson told The Gazette it’s the defense’s most open competition this spring.
Ben Belken, Amauri Pesek-Hickson, Cam Baker and Tucker Langenberg seem to be the front-runners, but the position has a lot more candidates that could start who have slightly less experience than the aforementioned four.
5. Secondary shakeout
Between transfers and underclassmen it’s been difficult to gauge who, if anyone, has an inside track to secure a starting spot at the available cornerback and two safety spots.
Woo Governor at corner and Edwin Dearman at nickel were the only two sure things in the secondary headed into spring. However, Farley said whoever starts in Friday night’s spring game is who the presumed starters will be come fall camp.
Along with Central Connecticut State transfer Jonathan Cabral-Martin and Central Michigan transfer Rolliann Sturkey, there are eight returnees with limited experience who have the benefit of experience practicing in the scheme.
It will also be worth watching the dynamic that’s likely to exist of a competing player’s urge to make a play Friday night versus playing within the scheme.