Friday, November 27, 2015         


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Defense should lead the way

By Stephen Tsai


With 14 football practices in the books and the 15th — and final one — converted into two video sessions tomorrow, Hawaii has all but concluded its fourth spring training under head coach Greg McMackin.

What remains is the spring cleaning — finalizing the depth chart and paring the roster, by as many as 30, to make room for the recruits, transfers and invited walk-ons who will join the Warriors this summer.

"We did a lot of good things this spring," McMackin said.

Here's a look: 


With a school-produced All-America campaign in the works, Bryant Moniz just had to work on his leadership skills this spring. The real battle was for No. 2, which went to incumbent Shane Austin. David Graves, who moonlighted at safety last year, earned the No. 3 job — a key future position because Moniz and Austin will be seniors this fall.


Three of four starting receivers completed their eligibility last season, including record-setting slots Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares. Billy Ray Stutzmann, a converted wideout, and Miah Ostrowski, who spent the first three months of the year playing point guard for the basketball 'Bows, exit spring training as the No. 1 slotbacks. Donnie King, Corey Paclebar and Justin Clapp are competing for backup slot roles, although the jobs won't be closed until after slotback Promise Amadi's arrival in June. Right wideout Royce Pollard, the lone returning starter, and Darius Bright are atop the depth chart on the outside. But Allen Sampson, who is moving from slotback, is now a full-time wideout. Offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich said right wideout Cecil Doe, a junior college transfer, deserves "a look" in training camp.


Sterling Jackson, who goes on scholarship in August, is the No. 1 back. Joey Iosefa, a converted linebacker, played well in the first nine spring practices before suffering a bruised thigh. He did not play in the Hilo scrimmage or the Warrior Bowl.


The five who started in the Hawaii Bowl have finished their eligibility, and left tackle Austin Hansen, who started 12 games, remains on NCAA suspension. Clayton Laurel has a slight lead over Jordan Loeffler at left tackle. Levi Legay and Sean Shigematsu are in a dead heat at right tackle. Brett Leonard and Matagisila Lefiti are assured starting jobs, although it has not been decided who will play left guard or center. Leonard has been better at left guard, where Rolovich described him as playing like "a mad dog." Chauncy Winchester-Makainai can play four line positions, but right now he is the No. 1 right guard.


Led by Vaughn Meatoga and Kaniela Tuipulotu, the Warriors have a strong five-man rotation at the two tackle positions. A sixth candidate is Moses Samia, who has abandoned plans to play baseball. Paipai Falemalu has earned a starting job at end. Liko Satele was set to win the other No. 1 spot when he suffered a forearm injury during the second week of spring training. Ends Marcus Malepeai, Beau Yap, Alasi Toilolo and Alema Tachibana have been impressive in controlled scrimmages. The sleeper is 6-5 freshman Desmond Dean. "He has a great get-off," defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. "He has long strides. He's able to eat up a lot of grass. And he has a great motor."


With Corey Paredes, a co-captain and last year's leading tackler, sitting out spring drills recovering from shoulder surgery, the Warriors have had to practice with seven linebackers. Art Laurel and Darryl McBride have worked at the elephant, a hybrid position that involves lining up as a pass-rusher or run defender on the line of scrimmage, or dropping into pass coverage. George Daily-Lyles has played more aggressively this spring — he had two sacks in the Warrior Bowl — and should play extensively. Aaron Brown has emerged as an every-down player. Jordan Monico, who moved from running back, made interceptions in the Hilo scrimmage and the Warrior Bowl.


Safety Richard Torres is the lone returning starter. Kenny Estes, who has had an injury-filled career, has practiced as the No. 1 free safety. Tank Hopkins, who redshirted last year because of a hernia-like condition, has been a shutdown corner this spring. John Hardy-Tuliau, who played the nickelback position known as quarter as a freshman in 2010, is the No. 1 right cornerback. Kamalani Alo has succeeded Hardy-Tuliau at quarter. Aranda said things could change when safety Brandon Leslie and cornerback Mike Edwards join this summer.


The kicking competition among Tyler Hadden, Kyle Niiro and Kenton Chun will extend into the summer. McMackin said all three are expected to be invited to training camp in August. Samson Anguay, a grayshirt who enrolled at UH full-time in January, is the leading contender to return punts.


"What is your assessment of the UH football team based on spring practice?"

Stephen Tsai / Star-Advertiser sports reporter

Spring training is supposed to be devoted to teaching fundamentals, and building depth charts and team unity. What adds intensity to the Warriors' workouts is the "Survivor" element. Up to 30 players — mostly walk-ons — will be cut this week to make room for this summer's newcomers. Reminded that every play of every drill is captured on video by the so-called "eye in the sky," there was a serious tone to each practice. Every mistake was magnified. Every one-on-one drill was intensified. It was interesting watching which players would emerge as contributors and which would watch their football dreams die.

Dave Reardon / Star-Advertiser sports columnist

When Kenton Chun made a field goal Friday night at the Warrior Bowl, Bobby Curran playfully announced, "Hawaii 3, BYU 0." Works every time, the Ching Field denizens laughed again this year. But, hey, what if UH really could play the Cougars or some other team in the spring finale, instead of itself? Then we would know whether to be horrified by or elated over eight sacks (and you could sell tickets and make planny money, too). OK, it's true the defense is always ahead of the offense in these things; how far is acceptable? Once again the offensive line is rebuilding. Here's some good news from the scrimmage that can't be turned on its head into a negative: Zero dropped passes — not bad for a receiving unit losing three starters, including two probable NFL draftees.

Ferd Lewis / Star-Advertiser sports columnist

The sight of white-haired, 71-year old University of Hawaii assistant football coach Dick Tomey sprinting — yes, sprinting — between stations at some Warriors practices said a lot about this spring.

It symbolized the urgency to overhaul special teams, Tomey's point of responsibility and an area of prime need for the Warriors.

UH's punt and kickoff return stats were among the most dismal in major college football last year, including a meager 3.8 yards averaged per punt return. So bad was the situation that by season's end the Warriors were asking their punt returners to merely fair catch the ball.

From returning kicks to blocking them it seemed there was a genuine emphasis this spring, an attention to fundamental detail and wide-open competition.

The Warriors will need to be successful on special teams in the fall, because while the defense should be a force, as advertised, the offense is, not unexpectedly, taking time coming around.

Jason Kaneshiro / Star-Advertiser sports reporter

Transition in the offensive skill positions has usually been accompanied by some pronounced growing pains throughout Hawaii's run-and-shoot history. Most of the rough years included a change at quarterback, and Bryant Moniz's return alleviates concern in that part of the equation. But the Warriors must still replace three-fourths of the starting receiver unit in an offense relying heavily on timing and chemistry. They appear to have answered one of the big questions of the spring with Miah Ostrowski and Billy Ray Stutzmann asserting themselves at the pivotal slot receiver spots. With a veteran unit returning on defense, a second season under defensive coordinator Dave Aranda figures to help the Warriors play more aggressively on that side of the ball. The secondary was hit hard by graduation, but cornerbacks Tank Hopkins and John Hardy-Tuliau appear ready to step forward, and senior Richard Torres provides stability at safety.

Mike Cherry / Hawaii News Now sports anchor

The running back position experienced a resurgence last season thanks to the hard-running style of Alex Green, who became the first UH back to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since 1992. I believe Sterling Jackson is ready to pick up that torch and run with it. The 6-foot 220-pounder isn't as agile as Green could be, but he possesses the power that will make defenders regret getting in his way. Just as impressive, though, has been the depth of backs offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich has at his disposal. It will be interesting to see how the duties will be spread among John Lister, Joey Iosefa and Hogan Rosehill, all of whom are bruiser-type backs capable of picking up the blocking assignments that are vital to the position. There might not be a single back who surpasses the 1,000-yard mark in 2011, but as a unit they could be a force.

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