CEDAR FALLS – The rust is slowly getting buffed out.
The Northern Iowa football team hit the halfway mark Tuesday of its COVID-19 sanctioned fall practices.
Pads have been popping and big plays were made on both sides of the ball as the Panthers have spent much of the first seven of 15 practices trying to familiarize themselves with the UNI football philosophy.
“One is just getting continuity within our football team,” head coach Mark Farley said. “It took time to get continuity, rhythm back and the team working together. We’d been apart for so long … the last time we put the pads on was back in December.
“It took a little longer than I thought, but we are to a good point going into practice eight.”
Farley said all signs are pointing to UNI holding a fall practice-ending scrimmage/workout for fans on Oct. 31 inside the UNI-Dome. He said the particulars are being worked out and it might be a decision made the week off the 31st due primarily to COVID-19 procedures and concerns.
“If there is an opportunity to let people come in and watch we will decide to do that and it is our hope we can allow people to watch,” Farley said.
CONCENTRATING ON DEPTH: With so many unknowns heading into the eight-game spring schedule, the coaching staff has been diligent on building depth.
That is most important in many different ways.
The Panthers lost some talented and key contributors from last season’s FCS playoff quarterfinal qualifier such as offensive guard Jackson Scott-Brown, running back Trevor Allen, wide receiver Jaylin James and safety Christian Jegen.
Then when COVID-19 shut down the program in March, all-American tight end Briley Moore transferred to Kansas State where he has caught a team-best 14 passes for 201 yards and two scores in four games with the Wildcats.
When the Missouri Valley Football Conference decided to cancel the fall season and move to a spring schedule, three NFL prospects choose to concentrate on preparing for the draft – offensive tackle Spencer Brown, defensive end Elerson Smith and defensive back Xavior Williams -- and are no longer with the team.
“Practice No. 6 this past Saturday was almost completely devoted to your 2s and 3s to see who had the ability to help you win and who should move up with the No. 1s and who should move up with the 2s,” Farley said. “It was all about creating the depth to see whom we needed to get ready to play this season and really to point out what other guys need to do to get ready.”
TRANSFER INFUSION: With several key losses on offense, Farley and his staff went looking for veteran, mature players during the recruiting process and landed a trio of intriguing players.
Farley said Kansas transfers Dom Williams, a running back, and wide receiver Quan Hampton along with Western Kentucky tight end transfer Kyle Fourtenbary will play major roles for the Panthers in the spring.
“They’ve had to find out how we play, how we practice and how we work so they can find out how they fit with us,” Farley said. “I’m very pleased with how they have come along and how they have helped our football team. They definitely are going to be difference makers in our system.”
ON THE MEND: 1,000-yard wide receiver Isaiah Weston and defensive tackle Tim Butcher have not participated this fall and a series of other players have either been limited or missed some practices.
Butcher and Weston had undisclosed surgeries.
“Through this it gave them a chance to go get surgery … they were going to play through these injuries, but now it gave them a chance to get the surgeries, get healed and still get back by the time we start again. They are experienced players so it was better to get them healthy because they are not only going to play one season, they are going to play two when you start playing January to May and the come back for August to December.
“It was critical to get these surgeries out of the way because they are going into a long two-season run.”