UNI Panthers

UNI quarterback competition makes progress in spring practice

Will McElvain and Jacob Keller look to have an edge heading into fall camp

Northern Iowa quarterback Jacob Keller throws a pass during last year's spring game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. (The Gazette)
Northern Iowa quarterback Jacob Keller throws a pass during last year's spring game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. (The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley acknowledged after his team’s final spring practice Saturday at the UNI-Dome that there is separation in what began as a wide-open quarterback competition.

Will McElvain and Jacob Keller both had three drives on Saturday while Nate Martens received two. None of the offense’s drives included big plays or touchdowns as the Panthers defense was focused on rebounding from a bad performance a week ago.

“I think there’s a 1A and a 1B (at quarterback),” Farley said. “Nate is where a freshman should be. The key to him is he’ll grow exponentially in those first 10 days of practice in the fall.”

Headed into fall camp Keller and McElvain seemingly have an edge in what will be a four-person QB competition, and Keller says the battle has been drama free.

“It doesn’t even feel like we’re competing because we’re all friends,” Keller said. “At the end of the day it’s a game. Will was just over at my house yesterday. We just want to see the team do well.”

At 5-foot-10, McElvain is built like recent No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Kyler Murray. He displayed play-making skills and, most importantly to Farley and first-year offensive coordinator Ryan Mahaffey, the ability to extend plays throughout the spring. Headed into the offseason, the Des Moines native says there’s plenty for him to work on.

“I think I did a good job. I grew a lot. I’ve just got to keep working on finding my check-downs and not trying to do too much sometimes,” McElvain said. “I think I got more comfortable with the playbook and in the pocket and just things like that.”

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Cornerback Xavior Williams spent the spring at safety and Farley described how former All-American Deiondre Hall developed his game the most when they made the same position change with him. Williams, who had eight interceptions the past two seasons, said he asked Farley to play safety before spring began.

“I like playing (safety),” Williams said. “It’s something different. It’s fun. I feel like I can get to the ball a lot more and like play centerfield and go after some balls and get more picks and that’s what I want to do. I hope it’s permanent, but wherever they need me (I’ll play).”

The Panthers will have the benefit of 17 players returning from injury this spring in time for fall camp. Perhaps mostly on the offensive line, where Spencer Brown, Mason Neisen and Matthew Vanderslice are likely starters. McElvain said he thinks UNI’s offensive line is possibly the best in the country, however Farley wasn’t willing to go as far with his praise.

“We’re physically very big right now when all the starters are out there,” Farley said. “Where we’re at talent-wise? We’ve got work to do this summer. We’re not close to being the best around. We have size and intelligence. Let’s find out if we’ve got football players now.”

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