UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII FOOTBALL
McKnight sorting out UH's O-line
The Warriors must replace three starters, all of whom are pursuing NFL careers
With three senior starters leading the way, the Hawaii offense had ample doses of talent and experience along the line last fall. But the Warriors also benefited from another key element up front.
"The biggest thing we had going for us last year was we were lucky," offensive line coach Dennis McKnight said. "We had the same five guys start every game and nobody got hurt."
This spring, with Samson Satele, Tala Esera and Dane Uperesa pursuing professional careers, filling the holes left by the senior linemen has been a high priority for the UH staff as the Warrior offense looks to build on a record-setting 2006 season.
John Estes and Hercules Satele are entrenched at the guard spots following their first seasons as starters and the competition at the other positions continues through the final week of practice. The coaches have been looking at various combinations before finalizing the depth chart heading into the summer.
"I think when we leave spring ball they should know who's going to be No. 1 coming in and it's your job to keep," McKnight said.
Two juniors -- Keoni Steinhoff and Keith Ah-Soon -- have been first in the rotation at the tackle spots. The center spot has rotated, with Lafu Tuioti-Mariner, Aaron Kia and Larry Sauafea seeing action. Sauafea has been one of the team's more versatile linemen, playing both guard spots as well as center.
"We're still experimenting with guys playing left or right, see who feels comfortable and can fit in and play multiple positions," McKnight said. "The last couple of days we had (Steinhoff) play left tackle and Keith play right. They're kind of back and forth and bouncing around."
Samson Satele started all 53 games in his UH career, finishing at center last year. Left tackle Tala Esera came close to matching Satele's starting streak, holding his post for 43 straight games. Both were first-team All-Western Athletic Conference selections. Dane Uperesa locked down the right tackle job last season and made the second team.
With those jobs still up for grabs, each practice amounts to an audition for the candidates.
"Everybody's trying to fight for a spot, there's some good competition going on," Ah-Soon said. "John Estes and Hercules Satele are pretty much locked. At the two tackles and in the middle, everybody's trying their best, everybody's trying to improve. ... Everybody's getting a chance to get in there and show what they've got."
Last year, Estes was a relatively anonymous redshirt freshman, but his effort in the spring helped elevate him into the starting five by the time fall camp rolled around. After starting all 14 games last season he returns as one of the veterans and is getting used to not seeing Samson Satele and Uperesa on either side.
"Last year I got better as the season went along, and even this spring I'm getting better and I know these guys are getting better each and every day," Estes said.
Breaking in a new center has been an ongoing process this spring as the candidates hone the skill of firing the shotgun snap back to the quarterback before engaging a defensive lineman. There have been a few hiccups during the spring with snaps going awry, but McKnight said repetition will take care of those issues.
"It's completely new to me," said Kia, a sophomore from Mililani. "It's not easy since I never played center. It's kind of hard, but I hope I get it down before fall."
With the Warriors returning quarterback Colt Brennan and most of the receiving corps, the linemen know the success of the offense hinges on their ability to give the playmakers the time to operate.
"It's going to be more of a 15-round fight this year, where last year those guys (the seniors) were knocking people out early," he said. "It's going to be different, but the bottom line is as long as we get the job done they don't ask how pretty it is.
"I know we've got quality kids that want to do well. They're a tight-knit group. They want to protect Colt, they want to have a great offense again and they've got a lot of pride and they're going to get it done."