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Too bad Warriors’ O-line won’t get a warm-up game

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Greg McMackin was still sitting in the director’s chair after taping a cheery segment for his preseason TV show, traditionally a feel-good, optimistic look at the football campaign to come.

I didn’t want to be a wet blanket. But the rain was already coming down steadily at Aloha Stadium anyway, so what the heck.

And it’s not like the University of Hawaii head coach hasn’t already had to address questions about his team’s offensive line. That’s been a constant since he became head coach after the 2007 season. And, now — with USC coming to town in six days — it’s become apparent that the performance of the O-line will go a long way toward determining the fate of the 2010 Warriors.

Yes, that’s true every year. The difference this time is that more than ever many who have watched practices in the spring and fall camps have cast doubts that the group is ready.

I said some words to that effect, half-expecting McMackin to spring out of the chair and get in my face. But I guess it came out politely. He didn’t even lose his smile.

"That’s a fair statement," he said. "But with the exception of center, the guys we’ve got out there have started, but at different times."

I agree with McMackin when he says left tackle Austin Hansen, left guard Brysen "Bulla" Ginlack, center Bronson Tiwanak, right guard Adrian Thomas and right tackle Laupepa Letuli are "athletic, and plenty big."

They are fine on paper and, individually, legit D-I linemen. They’re all 295 pounds or more, and the tackles are both 6-foot-4.

The question is how quickly they can come together.

"They need to play some games together," conceded McMackin, who also noted there are three other potential line starters who will be back from injuries in time for conference play.

We’ve been down this road before, at least sort of.

In 2003, UH had to replace Vince Manuwai, who was one of the best O-linemen in school history, and two other starters. Among the candidates were some talented youngsters, including second-year freshmen Samson Satele and Dane Uperesa.

That line’s indoctrination included USC, too. But the big difference was UH played the Trojans in the second game, not the first. Head coach June Jones and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh did some tinkering after UH opened with a 40-17 win against Division I-AA Appalachian State.

Things were far from smooth for that offensive line early in the season, and UH started out 2-3, with losses at USC, UNLV and Tulsa. But the Warriors finished 9-5 as the line came together.

Unfortunately, this Warriors line in transition doesn’t get an FCS team to warm up with. Although the Trojans have issues of their own on the O-line with just seven scholarship players, there’s nothing wrong with their defensive front — it is touted as one of the best in the country and will be a severe test of UH’s ability to protect quarterback Bryant Moniz.

"We’ll be facing probably the best defensive line since we played Georgia," McMackin said.

Ginlack — a senior who has secured a starting spot with the injury to guard-center Brett Leonard — has been around long enough to know offensive lines are not built in a day.

"We’ve got to get better each practice, each game," he said. "We’re coming together real good and we’ve got a couple more practices before the first game."

It’s just too bad that first game isn’t against Charleston Southern instead.

Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.

 

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