CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — If you want a snapshot of a football team’s defense, ask one of the offensive coaches.
University of Northern Iowa fans know what the Panther defensive line won’t have in 2012 following the departure of All-American Ben Boothby, Darrin Branch, Will Eilert and August Hadenfeldt.
However, Panther fans will soon know what associate head coach and offensive coordinator Bill Salmon sees every day in practice when his talented playmakers try to execute against UNI’s defense.
“I think we’ll be pretty good on defense again,” said Salmon.
On the front line, the names will change in 2012 as players like Mac O’Brien, Chris Jepsen, Tim Clark, Mohammed Kromah and Xavier Williams assume prominent roles and new faces fill in the depth chart around them.
Head coach Mark Farley likes the size and depth he will have in the trenches.
“The guy consistently who has been there is Mac O’Brien,” Farley said of the 6-foot-2, 290-pound junior from Waterloo Columbus High School. “Mac has been Ben Boothby’s partner the whole time he’s been here, which means the only way Mac knows how to do it is the way Ben did it. There’s not many people who do it that way.
“Hopefully, he’ll carry what he can from that into his own game and pass it on in time.
“Mohammed (6-3, 310) has dropped some weight, and he can run. I’ve always been excited about him because he’s very athletic, but he’s just starting to come into his own. Xavier Williams (6-4, 305) is the other redshirt sophomore tackle.
“Defensive ends ... we’re working to find out who those are, but Tim Clark (6-3, 245) and Chris Jepsen (6-3, 260) are two guys who have started for us going down the back half of last season,” Farley continued. “They’re back and getting ready for the football season, and then we’ve got some younger guys behind them that we’re trying to find that next person.
“I think Collin Albrecht of Cedar Falls (6-4, 259) has really stepped up. He’s going into his junior year, so he’s starting to get to that level of play where he can hold the line of scrimmage, and he’s always been a very good athlete.”
The Panther linemen know their performance will be one of the keys to UNI’s season.
“I think we’ve got a good dynamic,” said O’Brien. “We’re all young, we all have something to prove, so there’s a lot of motivation there. And we’re aware that we had a great group that left last year and we learned a lot from them, so we’re excited that it’s our time to get on the field.
“A lot of people are saying that a big question mark on defense will be the young d-line. That’s something we take seriously, and it does motivate us. We look forward to proving to people that we can take care of business.”
Kromah believes the line’s relative anonymity is an asset.
“We’re all unknown, so we have a lot to prove,” he said. “I think that’s the special thing about us this year. We all have a chip on our shoulder. Guys are flying around at practice and working hard. We’re excited about getting things rolling around here.
“I think we all just understand we’re young players. We don’t have a star system or anything like that. We all want to work hard. We all want to play. We’re all doing the best we can to get on the field. That’s taking notes. That’s doing extra stuff at practice, listening to coach, asking as may questions as possible.”
And then there’s the toughest schedule UNI has ever played with road games at Wisconsin, Iowa and Youngstown State, along with a UNI-Dome showdown against North Dakota State, in the first five weeks of the season.
“That’s a huge motivator,” said O’Brien. “We had a great summer of workouts and a great turnout. The first five games are going to be a grind. It’s just pushed us harder and made us work.”
Kromah can’t wait.
“Wisconsin and Iowa, NDSU ... those are huge games, especially for the d-line,” he said. “Being young, it’s going to be a challenge, but I know it’s a challenge we’re all up for.
“I’m definitely excited about our d-line.”