CEDAR FALLS -- Progress continues to be made by the Northern Iowa football team as the Panthers inch closer to their season opener with Iowa State on Aug. 31 in Ames.
UNI held its second and final preseason scrimmage Saturday at its outdoor practice facility North of the UNI-Dome, and to casual eye there may have been some concern with some key pieces to the puzzle that did not participate.
That was mostly true along the offensive line where three-year starting left guard Jackson Scott-Brown and key depth guy, Nick Ellis, were on the sidelines.
Panther head coach Mark Farley, however, said don't sweat it as both will be ready for UNI's season opener.
"Just a little wounded," Farley said of Scott-Brown and Ellis. "There is wounded and there are injuries. We have a few guys that are wounded out there, but they should be. If they have been playing and practicing as hard as we have been going and doing the things we asked of them, then they're going to be sore, tired and things are going to hurt."
Scott-Brown, the 6-foot-4, 321-pound senior from Council Bluffs who has made 35 consecutive starts for the Panthers, said it was just a day of rest and with Sunday an off day for UNI, that he'd be back in pads on Monday when the Panthers resume preseason drills
Redshirt-sophomore Justin Peine filled in for UNI between projected starter at left tackle Matthew Vanderslice and center Mason Neisen. Spencer Brown and Trevor Penning have been running at No. 1 right tackle and No. 1 right guard.
The day off gave Scott-Brown a unique advantage point for a group that Farley says will need to be its best offensive unit, especially with a first-year starter at quarterback.
"We did a good job of getting up to the ball and getting set," Scott-Brown analyzed. "Sometimes that is hard to do with a signal team. You have a bunch of people blocking the signals (from the sideline) so you got to get up to the line quick and make sure you are making the right call.
"Today, I think we did a good job of communicating and staying vertical on our double teams. That is our biggest thing. If there are two of us and one of them, it should end in our favor and we did a good job of that today."
Farley and offensive line coach Ryan Clanton have been pushing that unit hard in preseason.
"They are running on fumes right now and they should be," Farley said. "We will get them refueled and re-energized and expect them to be the strength of the offense."
Farley added that the top unit, plus Ellis, the Aplington-Parkersburg product, have had good camps.
Two things among many have been driving the growth of the offensive line during the preseason. The first is a ton of Kansas City Chiefs' and New Orleans Saints' film.
"We watch a lot of NFL film," Clanton said. "If you watch yourself too many times over and over again, you really don't have a standard. So we have a lot of NFL tape we watch that is the same schemes and really helps these guys to see what the standard is. It helped me out as a player a lot.
"Saints and the Chiefs .... those two teams have a lot of zone plays which is very similar to stuff we do."
The second thing is Clanton and his charges think the Panther defensive line has the potential to be special and that has only driven them to raise their level of play.
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"Going against Elerson Smith every day, a guy I think is going to be one of the best defensive ends in the conference, has made me made me better day in, day out," Spencer Brown said.
"I'll be honest, I think our defensive line is going to be really good," Clanton added. "They are talented and super strong."
QUARTERBACK DECISION, MAYBE MONDAY?: Reading between the lines in Farley's post scrimmage meeting with media, it appears a decision has been made on who will quarterback the Panthers against the Cyclones
Farley did not reveal whom the player was, but said an announcement is imminent.
"Probably sooner rather than later," Farley said. " I think I got a pretty good handle over the body of work that they have had for 14 practices now. This is like end of spring ball, and at the end of spring ball, as far as timing, I think you can name a starter, just like I could name a starter today."
Saturday's practice was UNI's 14th and after taking Sunday off for rest and recuperation, the Panthers will conduct their 15th practice Monday, which is also the length of spring practice.
Based on what the media has been allowed to see, redshirt freshmen Will McElvain and sophomore Jacob Keller have been exclusively running with the top units over true freshman Justin Fomby and Nate Martens.
Most of Saturday's practice was closed to the media, including the portion where the No. 1 offense went against the No. 1 defense during what Farley described as nearly a 60-70 snap scrimmage.
QUICK SCRIMMAGE ANALYSIS: The defense, according to Farley, won the day.
"The tackling was fairly crisp compared to the first scrimmage," Farley said. "It was clean, some good hits, solid hits that we were missing last week."
Offensively, Farley said the second unit committed far too many turnovers, but once again credited the defense for making plays time and time again.
"Offensively, we need to get a little smarter," Farley said.
At the same time, Farley said he thought the team handled frequent substitutions and the execution of getting lined up from the sideline to the field within those substitutions was good.
"There were not a lot of penalties or jumping so that was good," Farley summarized.
GETTING CLOSER: Preseason all-American tight end Briley Moore was in pads Saturday and participated in individual drills but was not part of the scrimmage while he continues to work his way back from a hamstring injury.
True freshman Maverick Gatrost of Center Point and Decorah's Tristan Bohr, a senior have been handling the No. 1 tight end duties.