Tuesday, August 17, 1999
This year's defensive backfield
will try to force offenses
Rainbow NotebookBy Paul Arnett
Don't use the word gamble around Hawaii defensive coordinator Greg McMackin when describing his secondary.
These guys may be opportunistic back there, they may be making educated guesses when they swarm toward the football, but gambling they are not.
"We have guys who go to the ball with an expressed purpose in mind," McMackin said. "We aren't gambling. We're aggressive. We're trying to make plays by forcing the offense into making mistakes."
You don't have to tell that to Rainbows quarterback Dan Robinson. He has watched too many tipped passes, dropped balls and errant throws land in the hands of the defenders.
If it isn't cornerback Quincy LeJay scooping up balls off the blades of grass, then it's safety Jacob Espiau stepping in front of the intended target and heading the other way untouched. Robinson figures if he can complete passes against these guys in practice and the complicated defenses employed by McMackin, the regular season will be easier by comparison.
"I can say this right now, our secondary is better than any I faced all last year," said Robinson, who spent much of the season on the seat of his pants. "If I don't look somebody off, they're all over our first option. They've got a good blend back there."
That they do. At this point, McMackin has mixed and matched two veterans - LeJay and safety Phil Austin - with two new players - cornerback Shawndel Tucker and safety Dedrick Miller.
Tucker first made his presence felt at last year's spring game. He locked in on talented Hawaii wide receiver Dwight Carter on several long routes.
Miller is also a big-play artist waiting to happen. Not only can the Northwest Mississippi College transfer come up to support the run, he's an enforcer down the middle on the pass as well.
"What we have back there is speed and that's so important in today's game," McMackin said. "If we can get pressure up front and force a play to happen a split-second early or split-second late, it gives us a chance to close in and make something happen."
And that's what this style of defense - first conceived by McMackin at Utah and Miami of Florida - is all about. The veterans and the newcomers alike enjoy McMackin's schemes.
"We played cover two for most of today's practice," Austin said. "But we ran a lot of different zone and man schemes while we were in it.
"I like this defense because it gives us a chance to make big plays back here. It's aggressive. We put pressure on you, try to force you into making a mistake."
LeJay also likes the help mode built into the system. Sometimes the linebackers are aiding the cornerbacks on shorter routes. Sometimes the cornerbacks are helping on rush plays. It's up to the offense to figure out which help mode the defense is in, and that's the challenge.
"The defense we run right now puts the secondary in a position to be difference-makers," LeJay said. "It also puts the defense together as a unit because everybody is helping out everybody else."
And as Austin put it, "That makes it tougher, more challenging because you not only have to know what you're doing on a certain play, but where you're going to get help from somebody else.
"Last year, we ran cover three where we would roll up this way or go that way. Good coaches came in and just exploited it because we didn't mix it up enough."
That won't be a problem in McMackin's book. He has more pages than the Old Testament.
"There's a lot for those guys to learn back there," UH head coach June Jones conceded. "But once they get it down, it's going to make us that much more effective defensively. I wanted a style of defense that matched our style of offense.
"Coach McMackin and (UH secondary coach) Rich (Miano) have developed some depth back there, and that's important. We also have better speed at all positions."
Other players receiving hard looks in the secondary this fall camp are Nate Jackson, Daniel Ho-Ching, Feiamma Armstrong and Tavis Campbell.
"We have eight guys back there that we feel like can play for us," McMackin said.
How well it all fits together depends on how much pressure the front seven can generate. Converted safety Anthony Smith and Yaphet Warren are the top outside linebackers. Their speed on the perimeter, plus the pressure they create on the edge of the defense, can only help the last line of defense.
"They help us and we help them," LeJay said. "Together, we're a stronger defensive unit."
Former Hawaii outside linebacker Houdini Jackson signed a scholarship agreement with Washington, head coach Rick Neuheisel confirmed yesterday.
Former UH player Jackson
signs with Washington
Jackson will have to sit a season, but the Houston resident will still have three years of eligibility.
UH head coach June Jones said yesterday he wasn't aware Jackson had signed with Washington. As a freshman, the former U.S. Navy man had 33 tackles, including three quarterback sacks.
Jackson joins former Hawaii defensive coordinator Tom Williams, who recruited him here in 1997. Williams is a defensive assistant for the Huskies.
Injury reportThe Rainbows lost outside linebacker Bo Espinoza for at least two weeks to a nasty hamstring injury. He is questionable for the season opener against USC.
The sophomore from Oxnard, Calif., is the first player to suffer a major injury in fall camp. Espinoza was backing up Anthony Smith at the left outside spot.
UH trainers are hopeful to get him back in time for the USC game, but that may be stretching it some. Wide receiver Davey deLaura missed yesterday's workouts with a groin pull. He is listed as day-to-day.
Cleared for dutyWide receiver John Kirby and offensive lineman Vince Manuwai were cleared to take part in practice. Kirby is returning as a wideout after redshirting last year. Manuwai was recently ruled eligible to play by the NCAA clearinghouse. Jones believes the Farrington High product could see some playing time early on.
The status of junior college recruits Jamal Garland and Anthony Vaughn remains uncertain. But it appears their chance of becoming academically eligible grows more distant with each passing day.
Fenderson makes markWalk-on running back James Fenderson raised some eyebrows during yesterday's morning practice with several electrifying runs.
Although he is expected to redshirt, the Long Beach City College product will give the top defense a good look on the scout team.
"The man can really cut up in there and go," offensive tackle Adrian Klemm said. "He's fun to block for because he doesn't need a lot of room to make a play."
Offensive play of the dayWide receiver Attrice Brooks drew some oohs and aahs from several sideline observers yesterday morning with a spectacular leaping grab. Not only did he go high in the air to catch the long ball, but was able to scoot into the end zone for his first touchdown in fall camp. Brooks is still working with the third unit, but is expected to move up the depth chart over the next couple of weeks.
Defensive play of the dayBecause contact is light in the afternoon workouts, it's unusual for a standout defensive play to take place in this 90-minute session. But all that changed on a punt play when Dee Miller came flying down the field to nail punt returner Feiamma Armstrong in full stride. The 5-7 cornerback popped up from the hit and received a pat on the butt from an appreciative Jones, who noted he didn't fumble.
Weather reportMorning and afternoon trade showers kept the practices cool for the players and coaches. Temperatures in the Manoa area remained in the low 80s for most of the day.
Stadium practices closedJones will conduct practices at Aloha Stadium tomorrow and Sunday. Both are closed to the media and public. Tomorrow's practice is 7:45-9 p.m. The Sunday session is set for 2-5 p.m. Jones will also have a night practice at Cooke Field on Thursday.
By Paul Arnett, Star-Bulletin
Ka Leo O Hawaii