Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Warriors look to kick-start special teams

By Stephen Tsai


After all of the training time invested in special teams, the Hawaii football team expected a season of many happy returns.

Instead, the Warriors are ranked 118th out of 120 FBS teams in kickoff returns and dead last in punt returns.

Chris Tormey, who coordinates special teams, said the numbers are misleading. The Warriors average 16.94 yards per kickoff return, Tormey noted, but they were charged for three squib kicks. Take those three plays out of the equation, and the Warriors' adjusted average is 20.57 yards, which would rank 83rd nationally.

"That being said, we still haven't popped a long one," Tormey said. "We've got two 30-yard returns. At this time last year, we had five or six."

The figures are more jolting on punt returns. Of the opponents' 19 punts, five were returned for minus-1 yard, an average of minus-0.2 yards per return. Three were fair catches.

With the Warriors' prolific passing attack, Tormey said, it is more important to secure possession on punt returns. The Warriors have lost one punt return, when a bouncing ball struck the back of a blocker's leg.

Still, Tormey said, "We need to be more productive on returns."

Last year, Jovonte Taylor and Royce Pollard were the kick returners. But the NCAA denied a request for a medical hardship that would have allowed Taylor to play this season. Pollard was relieved of his return duties after the second game, when he became established as an every-down wideout.

Freshman Allen Sampson has been the primary returner the past three games. He averages 19.8 yards a return. He has both 30-yarders.

"He's getting better," Tormey said.

Sampson said: "Our scheme is good. We have to execute it. We put in enough hours. We're going to break one this year. You can quote me on that. We have a great (return) team."

Tormey said Dustin Blount also might be used as a kickoff returner.

Yesterday, the Warriors introduced a key change on their kickoff returns. David Graves, a backup quarterback who has practiced at safety, was named the second deep returner. In UH's scheme, Graves will be aligned at the same depth as Sampson, only he will be on the wide side of the field. Sampson will field most of the kickoffs, with Graves sliding in front as a lead blocker.

"I don't mind blocking," Graves said. "It's another way to get in the game, another way to do something for the team. I'm down for it."

It usually is difficult to move a quarterback to special teams. But because Graves has been moonlighting at safety the past three weeks, Tormey said, "There are no trades involved. He's already a defensive guy."

Tormey said Graves fits as the field-side returner.

"He's a good athlete," Tormey said. "He's physical. He's smart. He can run."

Graves said: "I know I'm a blocker back there, but if it's kicked to me, I'm going to try and take it to the house."

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