CEDAR FALLS — The pads have been on for a week, but much is still to be evaluated and decided by Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley and his staff before the Panthers’ annual spring game on April 27.
Through five practices here are three things to watch for the rest of spring:
1. Wegher with the 1s
Purdue transfer running back Jack Wegher hasn’t missed a beat since putting on the purple. With Marcus Weymiller an “air-only” participant in spring practices Wegher has practiced with the starters and been assignment-sound while picking up an entirely new offense.
The former Sioux City Heelan star wants to be on the field every play, but is understanding of the role he’ll be come September.
“The whole atmosphere here is really competitive — exactly what I was looking for,” Wegher said. “(The coaches) kind of just needed someone to take the load off Marcus a little bit and I’m willing to do that. I’m willing to do anything for the team.”
Wegher has experience playing in the UNI-Dome. In 2012 as a freshman at Sioux City Heelan he played running back in the state playoffs. The former Crusader says he’s anxious to experience the Saturday environment inside the UNI-Dome.
“I can only imagine what it’s going to be like when we play North Dakota State or whoever else,” Wegher said. “I saw that (environment) and fell in love instantly. I couldn’t help myself but choose (UNI).”
2. D-line helped by Douglas’ 6th year
Two defensive line departures easily could have been three this offseason for UNI. After last season, Bryce Douglas applied for a sixth year of eligibility and was granted the year back from the NCAA.
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With a lot of young and inexperienced players poised to contribute on the defensive line this season, second-year D-line coach David Braun says it was “so important” to get Douglas back for one more season.
“I really felt like in the second-half of the season last year he was one of the best in the league,” Braun said. “My push to him is, ‘OK, what can we do moving forward? Where can we take this thing?’ He’s doing a nice job. Very excited to have (Bryce) back.”
3. Position changes ...
Typically each spring Farley moves a few players to different positions of need and this spring is no different. With a lack of depth present in the defensive backfield both Christian Jegen and Trevor Allen have been working at safety and cornerback respectively.
Newfound depth at the running back position helped make Jegen and Allen’s moves possible, but nothing is guaranteed and by the fall one, or both, could be back on offense. Elsewhere, on the offensive line, former D-lineman Hezekiah Applegate has been practicing with the second unit. Farley said after Saturday’s practice — the end of “phase one” as he calls it — it’ll be important for him to get an evaluation on film after what was a scrimmage-like atmosphere at Saturday’s practice.
“One, they had to learn the position before you can evaluate them,” Farley said. “They’re making errors day one, two, and three just because they don’t know what they’re doing. Let them understand the position so they can start playing fast and see if they can play the position. So, I’ll look at this film intently. We’ll start moving people for the next phase. We’ll start moving a few back to other positions now. Take the ones that fit and move the other ones to places we need more strength.”