116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — The Northern Iowa linebacking corps is perhaps the deepest and most talented position on the roster.
Middle linebacker Spencer Cuvelier returns after earning first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors this spring season and first-team All-MVFC preseason honors earlier this week.
Cuvelier led the Panthers in tackles (71) last season and position coach D.J. Vokolek says they’ve worked together this offseason to tap into more of his potential.
“The progression with him is we’ve just got to keep improving,” Vokolek said. “There’s so many things that we look at with the linebacker group that we can get better at. Footwork, change of direction, movement in open space, man-to-man coverage, blitz technique, those kinds of things.”
Next to Cuvelier at Will linebacker should be Bryce Flater, but the Grundy Center native will need to prove he’s healthy and durable throughout fall camp to regain his starting spot from Riley Van Whye, after a season-ending shoulder injury in the spring
“I think he’s progressed nicely,” Vokolek said. “He’s got it taken care of and has been rehabbing and he should be back to full go. We’re excited to see where he’s at.”
Van Whye, who was second in tackles (54) this spring, drew high praise from Vokolek and head coach Mark Farley numerous times last season as he filled in for Flater.
At nickel linebacker — a hybrid position within UNI’s defense that demands linebacker strength and the ability to cover like a defensive back — Vokolek told The Gazette that fifth-year senior Alfonzo Lambert and true sophomore Jace Andregg are poised to battle it out in preseason camp.
“Two guys stand out. A guy like Alfonzo Lambert has played multiple positions, did a great job for us in our last football game in the spring,” Vokolek said. “Another guy that we’ve got to find out more about and really showed some promise in the spring — didn’t get a lot of playing time — but has really progressed and we’re looking for improvement and really excited to see what he can do in the fall is Jace Andregg.”
The depth the Panthers boast at linebacker figures to boost their special teams units. Andregg, Jake McLaughlin, Ben Belken and Cam Baker are each poised to play large roles in the kicking game this season and Vokolek says they’ll all need to be ready to contribute on defense, too.
“Your linebackers, all of them, should be able to play special teams,” Vokolek said. “When you have some depth and you have some numbers at the linebacker position, they should be special teams guys and take pride in that, and those guys I know will. We’re going to be looking for big things out of some of those guys.”