116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa’s defensive line is poised to look quite different for its 2021 fall season opener compared to its 2021 spring season finale.
COVID-19 protocols and injuries left the Panthers with only three linemen against North Dakota State on April 10, forcing offensive lineman Hayden Amos to switch to the position for the game and safety Jevon Brekke to regularly play at the line of scrimmage and take on blocks from the Bison’s offensive linemen.
Headed into the fall season, UNI will not only have enough to fill a starting lineup, it’ll also have the kind of depth that position coach Bryce Paup desires to keep his guys fresh throughout games.
Who in particular will make up that depth, though, remains to be seen.
“We’re going to need a couple young defensive ends to step it up just because we’re a little thin with experience right now,” Paup said. “But, we have a few good candidates so I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do, because at one point, Elerson Smith in 2018 was an unknown commodity and he played a little bit and got his feet wet and the next year, he just blossomed.”
Paup went on to mention Cannon Butler, Cade Moore and true freshman Derek Anderson as possibilities to round out UNI’s defensive-line rotation. Interestingly all three are listed at 6-foot-6, with physiques that look similar to what Smith’s was as an underclassmen.
UNI’s starters are headlined by returning Missouri Valley Football Conference defensive player of the year and preseason first-team All-American Jared Brinkman.
The Iowa City Regina grad registered 3.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss in the seven-game spring season, despite routinely battling double teams as an interior lineman. Add the returns of Tim Butcher and Khristian Boyd, who both have starting experience, and the Panthers have arguably as good of a trio of interior defensive linemen as any FCS team.
Senior Brawntae Wells and redshirt sophomore Caden Houghtelling sit atop the depth chart at defensive end. Wells led the UNI defense with 4.5 sacks last season while Houghtelling registered 3.
A broken foot in the spring slowed Houghtelling’s development and could keep him on a limited snap count to begin the season. The broken foot was a tough blow for Paup, who told The Gazette the Nebraska native was on the verge of breaking out.
“He’s had a couple months to recover and I think he’s ready to pick up where he left off, I’m hoping, and just carry it on from there,” Paup said. “Because I see him as maybe a little bit more versatile Karter Schult.”
Beyond its starters and underclassmen, the addition of Stanford graduate transfer Dylan Boles, along with redshirt sophomores Devin Rice and Sean Wendel, provide the requisite amount of depth.
Looking back on the group’s performance in the spring and there not being a standalone pass-rusher with gaudy numbers, Paup says it could be harder for offenses to game-plan against this group.
“If we run the right stunts at the right time, we’ve got good enough guys that I think we can create some chaos if we do it right,” Paup said.