LAS VEGAS » In the desert heat, the Hawaii football team’s playing rotation expanded.
During yesterday’s 2-hour practice at Palo Verde High in Las Vegas, the Warriors worked on several defensive combinations out of strategy (the upcoming opponent has a power-running offense) and necessity (UH strong safety Spencer Smith underwent forearm surgery Monday and will miss up to eight weeks of games). The Warriors are training in Las Vegas in preparation for Saturday’s road game against Colorado.
Richard Torres, the No. 1 nickelback, will replace Smith as the strong safety in the base 4-3 defense.
In schemes involving five defensive backs, the coaches are mulling whether to keep Torres at safety or move him back to nickelback. If Torres is at safety, then Lewis Walker, Jordan Gomes or John Hardy-Tuliau will play nickelback. If Torres moves to nickel, then Kenny Estes or Gomes will play strong safety.
"It’s a big loss without Spencer, but Torres can step in," defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said.
Torres is considered to be the Warriors’ best all-around defensive back.
"He’s a good communicator, a smart player," said Chris Tormey, who coaches the safeties. "He understands the schemes. Certainly, losing Spencer is a blow to our team. We’re fortunate to have Richard."
When he joined the Warriors as a walk-on in January 2008, Torres was capable of running 40 yards in 4.8 seconds and bench pressing 225 pounds six times. Now he can do double-digit reps of 225 pounds. He also has lowered his 40-yard time to below 4.5 seconds.
He credited plyometrics, a box-juming exercise.
"When you have stronger legs, you can run a lot faster," Torres said.
Aranda said that Kawika Ornellas, a sophomore walk-on from Mililani High, now is "bracketed" with Lametrius Davis at left cornerback atop the depth chart. Davis started UH’s first two games. Both will play against Colorado.
"When the opportunity comes, you have to take your chance," Ornellas said.
Associate head coach Rich Miano said it was an easy decision to expand Ornellas’ workload.
"He graded out consistently high on his testing," Miano said. "He’s played consistently. He had the best training camp out of all of the corners. He’s somebody who is playing at a high level."
Elliott Purcell is projected to start at defensive left end. Liko Satele, who started UH’s first two games, will split time with right end Kamalu Umu. The coaches want to ease the burden on Umu, who is averaging more than 50 defensive plays per game.
Aranda described Purcell as being "run-effective."
Cal Lee, who coaches the defensive ends, said Purcell is a better matchup for Colorado’s imposing blockers.
"He’s a big bear," Lee said of Purcell. "Not a Teddy Bear, but a big bear in there. When he gets his paws on you, he’s a run-stopper."
Purcell was projected to be a starting defensive end entering spring training. But then he suffered a severely sprained left ankle when he landed awkwardly while running up a hill. The injury sidelined him for spring training, and eventually cost him his starting job.
Purcell, who is 6 feet 3 and 250 pounds, said he is not concerned about his spot on the depth chart.
"The only thing I can control is my effort," he said. "This is my last year. I want to do my assignments, and work hard."