CEDAR FALLS — No Eli Dunne. No Jared Farley. No Jalen Rima. No Elias Nissen. No Malcolm Washington.
Is there cause for concern with how many top players sat out Saturday during Northern Iowa’s controlled scrimmage at the UNI-Dome?
Panther head coach Mark Farley says don’t read anything into it because those guys, while some of them are battling normal wear and tear for preseason practice, weren’t going to play anyway.
Much of UNI’s second scrimmage of August was about the next man in.
“We’ve had a good week,” Farley said of the Panthers’ third week of practice. “But this was a scrimmage that you really had to find who your communicators are going to be should something happen to a key player on your team. a guy who is a communicator.
“Who is going to take that role? Sometimes you have to take that guy (the No. 1 guy) out to find someone else who will step up. I was looking for those guys that are going to be the first in should something happen so that we don’t lose rhythm in the game.”
The practice started with two sessions of special teams work, both kickoff and punting, sandwiched around a session of shell work.
Following the special teams work there were three sessions of “thud” scrimmaging where hitting was allowed, but no tackling to the ground.
True freshman Jacob Keller and junior Colton Howell took the majority of reps at quarterback.
Keller, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound native of Aurora, Ill., at times flashed the skills that made him one of UNI’s top targets in the spring recruiting period.
On one of his first passes of the scrimmage, he threw a perfect corner strike on the run to Aaron Graham for a 27-yard gain. But later, Keller showed his inexperience when he held the ball too long, threw late over the middle and was picked off by Elijah Campbell in what would’ve been a pick-six had the whistle not blown after the interception.
“If I played tomorrow I’d feel confident in Eli, Jacob and Colton right now,” Farley said. “We are making progress at quarterback. The more competition you have the more it is going to show up. Jacob has came in and is competing to be the second quarterback. Colton is in there competing for it. I think it is great.
“If Jacob and Colton can get to the level they can compete with Eli ... all the better.”
COACHING DUTIES: For the second straight week, Farley mixed up his on-field and coaching box personnel.
Saturday, Pat McCann, Nick Danielson, Mike Simmonds, Jeff Burris, David Braun and D.J. Vokolek worked the sidelines, with John Bond, D.P. Eyman and Jeremiah Johnson in the booth.
“With so many new coaches, we have to understand how to work together and communicate together,” said Farley. “I mixed it up this week from last week and will probably do something different next week.”
TRUE FRESHMEN IN THE MIX: Several true freshmen have displayed enough to be considered for roles this fall, including Jared Brinkman on the defensive line, Suni Lane in the defensive secondary, Terrell Carey at wide receiver, Matthew Vanderslice at tight end and Alphonso Soko in the return game, as well as Keller.
Farley indicated three or four more could work their way into contributing roles.
REDSHIRTS SHINE: UNI signed a huge class of 29 in 2016 and several of those players debuted last year. Even more are beginning to work their way into the mix.
Saturday, receivers Nick Fossey and Isaiah Weston each had big grabs, while former tight end Spencer Brown has grown into a tackle offensively.
On defense, guys like Xavior Williams at corner and Austin Evans at safety, along with a few others, are going to provide depth or start.
VARYING TIMES: By design Farley has moved around the start times of each of the team’s scrimmages. Last week it was 1 p.m., and Saturday it was 4 p.m. Next Saturday’s scrimmage is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.
UNI plays games with all three of those start times.