CEDAR FALLS – Options. Options. Options.
When Northern Iowa assistant head coach and linebackers coach D.J. Vokolek walks into his position groups meeting room he scans the room and thinks to himself I’ve got a ton of defensive playmakers.
“We got great depth,” Vokolek said. “We got multiple guys you can play in different rotations. We have a lot of sub packages we can go to in different situations.”
Strong linebacker play has been a signature for Panther teams under head coach Mark Farley. The upcoming 2021 season should be no different.
UNI returns all-conference pick Spencer Cuvelier, who averaged 10 plus tackles a game in the Panthers’ seven-game spring season. Junior Riley Van Whye ranked second in the spring with 51 tackles in seven games.
Then you have tackling-machine Bryce Flater, who racked up 143 tackles in 2019. Flater was injured in UNI’s spring opener and did not play again.
CEDAR FALLS – Go ahead and try to double team UNI defensive tackle Jared Brinkman.
The Grundy Center native was just recently cleared to play and the Panther coaching staff hopes he will be ready when UNI opens at Iowa State on Sept. 4.
“He couldn’t lift all summer,” Panther coach Mark Farley said. “We are going to bring him along the next few weeks and will we base where he is at three weeks from now.
“He is not ready today. He is coming off walking around in a sling for three months. You don’t just show up and start throwing your shoulder at things. He is a work in progress.”
When Flater is full strength that gives the Panthers another option.
CEDAR FALLS – The UNI Panthers are used to being picked to finish closer to fifth in the cou…
But UNI’s defense has plenty other options, too.
When the Panthers want to with more speed on the field Eric Mooney or Alfonzo Lambert step in as a hybrid safety/linebackers.
And there are several young players waiting in the wings for their opportunities to make big hits and create turnovers.
Former running back Nick McCabe has switched to the defensive side of the ball. Jake McLaughlin, Jordan Gayer, Reed Snitker and Cameron Baker have each been through a fall camp.
“It is a good group of guys,” Vokolek said. “The thing I’m happy about is their work ethic. They come to practice every day motivated. It is just a good group of guys that make it easy for us to coach.
“Yes, you have to push them, but at the same time they push themselves.”
And for the defense to be one of the top in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, Cuvelier says it comes down to one thing.
“It is just working together as a team, a unit,” Cuvelier said. “I think the spring left a lot of people hungry for this season. We got to be smart with what we do.”
Cuvelier adds much of the success for the linebackers comes because UNI has been blessed with so many great defensive tackles.
Last year, Jared Brinkman, Tim Butcher and Khristian Boyd all ate up multiple offensive linemen providing UNI’s linebackers more time to get to the ball.
“All the credit goes to the guys around me, especially those big guys up in front of me led by Jared Brinkman,” Cuvelier said. “That guy is an absolute animal.”
Cuvelier also believes the linebackers and the team as a whole have done a great job preparing to play a second season in small time frame.
“We had a big summer of preparation making sure we were stretching and doing mobility exercises,” Cuvelier said. “As a team I think we accomplished a lot of that to help keep guys healthy.
“It’s also being smart with what we do getting ready whether we are in full pads or whatever.”