116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa football wrapped up its first normal schedule of spring practices in three years Friday night.
With fall camp up next in a little over three months, here are five things we learned at Friday’s final practice.
1. Overdue spring development
It can’t be overstated how important getting back to a normal spring is for a developmental program like UNI’s.
After losing spring practices in 2020 due to the pandemic and in 2021 due to the delayed 2020 fall season, the Panthers were able to take a much-needed step back toward normal with their football calendar.
Injured veterans like Khristian Boyd, Spencer Cuvelier, Devin Rice, Jayden Scott and Logan Wolf are able to have a normal timetable for their injuries to heal, while second-, third- and fourth-teamers got numerous reps that hadn’t been available at practices since 2019.
A return to spring normalcy was obviously welcome for Coach Mark Farley, but it was what transpired on the practice field that got him most excited.
“Where we were at the beginning of spring ball and where we’re at now is about like it was the first year we ever came here in 2001,” Farley said. “There was significant improvement and there was significant growth that was actually measurable. It’s exciting.”
2. Starting from scratch
Digging into the particulars of Farley’s excitement, and his eliciting of 2001 as a benchmark for progress made this spring, revealed what he describes as an entirely new offense.
Before facing off against offensive juggernaut Eastern Washington last fall in the first round of the FCS playoffs, he praised the Eagles concepts and went as far to say his team needed to look to EWU for inspiration moving forward.
Farley put those words into action when he hired former EWU offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder this offseason, and since joining the staff, Reeder — along with run game coordinator Ryan Clanton and wide receivers coach Joe Ganz — has rebuilt UNI’s offense from the ground up.
“We have created our own system that is basically handmade specifically for UNI and the last time we probably did that was 2001,” Farley said. “This one was built from scratch with personnel and what we’ve done and what we want to do — built specifically for UNI.
“Even when we came here in 2001 we kind of absorbed and put in the offense that was there because it was such a short amount of time and we wanted to win immediately. In this particular situation we built one from scratch for Bodie Reeder, for Ryan Clanton (and) for Joe Ganz. It wasn’t a hybrid of something else, it’s UNI.”
3. Early returns from the new offense
When it comes to executing the new offense, Farley — as he mentioned before spring practices began — reiterated a simplification of reads and keys and the importance for quarterbacks and everyone else on the offense to not get bogged down in thought at the cost of their athleticism.
Backing up from the more intricate elements, though, he also was impressed with how well the offense has worked operationally.
“Our rhythm, just how we operate, has worked very smooth,” Farley said. “Now, we have our days that we’re off and things like that and (have) things we’ve got to correct, but I tell you what, as far as operation from communication, knowledge of the play, players being able to think quickly to get lined up to understand what they’re supposed to do, that’s 90 percent of it.”
4. Secondary and defensive line depth
Beyond the returns of starting safeties Benny Sapp III and Korby Sander, the Panthers secondary lacks in depth and experience.
DeMarcus Governor and Stefan Black — who have both gotten sporadic playing time the past two seasons — impressed throughout the spring at each cornerback spot, according to Farley, and younger players in the group provided some relief with regards to how they can offer depth.
At the front of the defense, though, Farley said they’re thin.
“The ones that got the reps found out the standard. Replacing (Tim) Butcher and (Jared) Brinkman is not just words, that’s a chore,” Farley said. “Boy, we need more time. We need the summer, we need weight room, we need more development there to get to the level we want to be.”
5. The backfield’s third wheel
The trio of Dom Williams, Vance McShane and Bradrick Shaw totaled 1,574 yards rushing yards last season and the depth and diverse skills they provided proved critical in injecting life into UNI’s run game.
With Shaw graduated, Terrance Kamara and Kansas transfer Amauri Pesek-Hickson are angling for the leftover snaps. Pesek-Hickson’s 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame looks good on paper to replace the physically formidable Shaw, but Farley said there’s lots of work to be done yet for the former Jayhawk.
“We’re finding out about Amauri. Amauri brings size,” Farley said. “These transfers that do come in (though), some of them haven’t been playing for two years. He needs game experience.”
UNI opens its 2022 season on Sept. 3 at Air Force.