CEDAR FALLS — If you demand excellence on a daily basis, the expectation is excellence.
That is what the University of Northern Iowa football coaching staff is demanding this spring, and Saturday the Panthers were reminded of it for much of their three-hour practice inside the UNI-Dome.
On more than one occasion after seeing false starts, missed gap fills or dropped passes, head coach Mark Farley blew his whistle, stopped a drill and made his team run.
“That is more of, what do you demand?” Farley said. “That is part of the game. To be part of the game you have to have the mindset, you have to be locked in. If you are not locked in during a stressful situation you are not going to perform.
“The offsides, the false starts, drops ... the mental part of the game needs to be coached just as hard as the physical part of the game.”
UNI conducted four practices this week. The final two practices could be described as depth practices.
On Friday, Farley gave most of his top unit the day off while holding a helmets-only workout for redshirts and players fighting their way onto the two-deep. Saturday, Farley gave many of those 2s and 3s a ton of reps.
“Two things have to happen, so besides just learning what we are doing there has to be opportunity,” Farley said. “Those guys need opportunities to go out and make a mistake, learn from mistakes so they can play better and play faster. Until you get those reps you can’t make fair evaluations. We are trying our best to get the young guys knowledge so they can be productive.
“So, the 2s and 3s became the 1s and 2s, and by doing that they were a lot more engaged in practice and when you repeat that practice like we did today, they have a lot better chance to perform.”
INJURIES: The Panthers have had their share of the normal bumps and bruises to date, but no significant injuries.
UNI is lean at wide receiver as both Jaylin James and Isaiah Weston, UNI’s top two returning receivers, remain out of practice. That duo combined for 55 catches for 718 yards and six touchdowns last year.
“We are out of receivers,” Farley said. “So it challenges you to get better somewhere else — play-action, run-game — and when we get those guys back it will make us stronger.”
SWITCH-A-ROO: Farley consistently talks about his top 20 or 30 players and finding ways to get them on the field, so he experiments with players in different positions early in spring.
Saturday, Trevor Allen, who rushed 92 times for 432 yards and two scores last year, was back with the running back group after spending the early part of the spring learning the safety position.
“Put him back on offense this week to make sure we keep him engaged with the offense as much as the defense,” Farley said. “He is a good football player so he is going to find a way to get on the field.”
Christian Jegen, another player who has played his first two seasons as running back, is still running with the safeties.
“When we go to tackling that will determine where some of these young players are at,” Farley said. “It is one thing to run at a position, but once you start tackling, that phase of the game, you find out a little more about if you are ready for an offensive player to be a defensive player.”
Additionally, Hezekiah Applegate, a defensive tackle last year, is continuing to work at offensive guard.
FIRST LIVE SCRIMMAGE: Farley indicated next next Saturday’s practice, the 12th of 15, will be the first time the Panthers will go live with tackling.
“As long as we remain healthy, it will be like the practice we had today but we’re going to tackle in it and we will go as long as we can,” Farley said.
UNI’s final practice, its annual spring game, is set for 6 p.m. on April 27.