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Seth Thomas kneeling

Northern Iowa's Seth Thomas (center with beard) kneels with defensive line teammates as they listen to a post-practice message from Panther head coach Mark Farley this spring. 

CEDAR FALLS — Seth Thomas was told to stay on the sidelines.

But no matter how many times Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley shooed him off the field, the senior defensive end from Stillwell, Kan could not keep himself from creeping back out onto the field.

As with many spring workouts and the Panther coaching staff wanting to get a look at new or inexperienced players, they will limit the reps of proven players.

Therefore, Thomas, who has appeared in 34 games for UNI over the past three seasons, including 13 starts last season, found himself sitting out for a large portion of UNI’s live-scrimmage sessions last weekend.

“We have such great teachers and coaches who teach you to want the best for others ... want you to put them before yourself for the betterment of the team.

“But you get that itch, you want to go out and stop the play and coach them, tell them what they did wrong or could do better.”

Thomas will be one of just a handful of defensive linemen with experience heading into the 2019 season.

Hezekiah Applegate has appeared in 34 games as a defensive tackle, Brawntae Wells played in 13 games, including two starts last year, and Elerson Smith ranked second on the team with 7 1/2 sacks in 2018 while appearing in all 13 games. Jared Brinkman will also be back inside, but is missing spring action with a lower-body injury.

With the graduation of Rickey Neal and Bryce Douglas, UNI is looking to build depth and there are plenty of candidates.

On Saturday, Marcel Minniefield, Caden Houghtelling, Khristian Boyd, Sean Wendel, Devin Rice and Tim Butcher got extended looks.

“They got to get more consistent,” UNI defensive line coach Bryce Paup said. “We are a little bit up and down right now. We have good talent. We just don’t have a ton of experience.

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“It was really good to get these guys on the field and see what they can do. Some of these guys haven’t played at all, and we are going to have to rely on them.”

In Saturday’s three live situations, the defense took a few lumps, in particular the defensive line that was reacting too much and not playing fast, or not taking up space to allow linebackers to make plays.

“Today was definitely a loss,” Paup added. “We came out and locked onto blocks and peeked into the backfield. We worrying too much about where the quarterback was instead of getting him off his mark. We just can do that.

“We have to pin our ears back and if you make a mistake, I don’t care as long as you are going 100 miles per hour because you will make up for a mistake if you are going fast.

“If you are just peeking, you will never make a play because the offense is always going to be in position to make the block.”

Among the guys Paup says could make some immediate impacts early in 2019 are Minniefield and Boyd.

The 6-foot-2, 282-pound Minniefield, who hails from Lee’s Summit, Mo., missed last year with injury after appearing in seven games in his first two seasons. Boyd, at 6-foot-4, 305 pounds, is going to be counted on inside a ton. He is another one of UNI’s Blue Springs, Mo. finds.

“Marcel could be kind of the X-Factor on the defensive line,” Paup said. “He still needs to make a lot of progress. Boyd, he is a big strong kid. A good player who needs to be more consistent in his technique.”

And as much as it hurt on Saturday, Thomas said the lumps those young guys will take will be valuable lessons.

“You’ve got to learn off failures and successes,” Thomas said. “The good thing is those failures happened here and not somewhere else down the line. I’m excited to see where this group can go from here.”

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Sports reporter for The Courier

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