CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa football coach Mark Farley is focused on what’s happening in his first spring preseason camp.
However, he can’t help but find time to watch two of his former players at this week’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Two UNI All-Americans — defensive end Elerson G. Smith and offensive lineman Spencer Brown — have quickly made an impression on the reporters and analysts covering the week’s practices at Hancock Whitney Stadium.
“When you’re watching two of your football players amongst the best in college football, lining up against the best in college football, that’s really neat,” Farley said. “But, even more so, they’re winning, too. I got to watch some drills and what they show on TV and some of the things on Twitter, and they’re up against the best right now — the names that we’ve all been reading about in college football — and they’re not just holding their own they’re winning the one-on-one battles and making a name for themselves.”
Farley said he’s heard second- to fifth-round NFL Draft projections for Smith and Brown. He also acknowledged the benefit of having two Senior Bowl participants when it comes to recruiting.
“There’s no question (it helps),” Farley said. “It’s great long-term because, to me, college football is the process of development. More so here maybe than other places, because of the level of player you’re going to get in a (FCS) program, but yet develop them to a Power Five and a top-50 player in the country. That’s what you can go out and recruit with.”
Brown’s departure for the NFL Draft after the FCS postponed its fall season increased the amount of work that already was going to be needed along UNI’s offensive line.
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All-Missouri Valley Football Conference left guard Jackson Scott-Brown was a part of the unit the last time the Panthers suited up, as was guard Nick Ellis, who will miss the spring season with an undisclosed injury.
“They lost the voice of Jackson Scott-Brown and the attitude of Jackson Scott-Brown,” Farley said. “Then you lose Spencer Brown and (Ellis). Those two personalities together really created an energy. So, they have to find their identity amongst each other. Then, they have to find out through that identity how are they going to work together and who is going to be the staple?”
Erik Sorenson, Jared Penning, Tristan Roper and Matthew Vanderslice are among those positioned to capture available starting spots.
Sorenson and Vanderslice, though, are the only two with previous game experience.
“They’re working to improve and that’s the whole thing,” Farley said. “We’re not out there to prove anything to anybody right now. I just want them to get out there and improve everyday.”
Attached to getting its offensive line figured out, UNI’s run game is hoping to increase its production, especially considering how the weather during the upcoming spring season could provoke teams to keep their offenses on the ground.
“It will be critical to this season because when I walked in from my car this morning there’s about 8 feet of snow out there,” Farley said. “When you’re playing outdoor games I don’t know how long that ball is going to be in the air when you’re playing with this much snow and the weather that there is.”
No. 3 UNI opens its spring season Feb. 19 at home against No. 5 South Dakota State.