CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa’s offensive line has undergone more turnover than expected after the end of the 2017 season.
Offensive line coach Mike Simmonds left in the offseason for the same position at FBS Texas-El Paso. Also unexpected was Jacob Appleman forgoing his final year of eligibility after receiving his degree and being accepted to nursing school.
Add in the graduations of Bryce Sweeney and Lee Carhart and there are three possible starting spots open on the Panthers offensive line.
Given the expected — and unexpected — turnover, UNI head coach Mark Farley said during his first news conference of the year last week offensive line will be a focal point for him this spring.
Ryan Clanton, a former Oregon offensive lineman, was hired in early March to replace Simmonds. Clanton spent the past four seasons as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Ventura College, a junior college in California.
Now a month on the job and three practices into his first spring, the former Oregon team captain has a grasp of what each player in his position group is in need of.
“I know who wants to, basically, get nasty playing offensive line,” Clanton said. “I’ve really figured out the guys that have game experience and the guys that are just learning. And the people I need to communicate better with, teach better, and the people that know techniques — I’ve just got to change the (verbiage) around.”
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Spencer Brown and Nick Ellis — who made starts last season at right and left tackle, respectfully, before losing their seasons to injury — are non-contact participants this spring as they continue to rehab. While the duo figures to be firmly in the mix this fall for starting spots, Clanton’s liked what he’s seen from a largely young and inexperienced group through four spring practices.
“The players have been amazing,” Clanton said. “They’ve bought in to everything we’re trying to do up front. They’re a young group, but they understand it’s a next-man-up mentality and we’ve got to fill spots. By the end of the spring I want to know who the two-deep are. Basically, I want to know who wants to play in games.”
Clanton, who finished his career in 2013, said he thrives off energy and looks to bring it to every workout, practice and game. During his four years at Ventura, he sought out nasty, physical offensive lineman who play with something to prove. Much like he did at City College of San Francisco before accepting the scholarship to play for Chip Kelly at Oregon.
“I think (Ventura) prepared me great, because you only have guys for one to two years in junior college so you’ve got to teach them quick,” Clanton said. “(My style) marries in (with UNI). Playing at Oregon we had a different system, but, we took a lot of the concepts from that (and) we’ve married it well with what we’re trying to do.”