DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The University of Hawaii Warriors were named the 23rd-best college football team in America by the Associated Press. Above, players scrimmaged yesterday at Aloha Stadium, where defense dominated the offense in the 50-play practice session.
Warriors ‘D’ steps up
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The Hawaii Warriors arrived at Aloha Stadium yesterday morning, freshly anointed as the 23rd-best college football team in America by the Associated Press.
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Two hours and a 50-play scrimmage later, they left the site of their home games with senior linebacker Micah Lau reminding all within earshot, "Not WAC champs yet!"
Things are looking good for UH, especially at quarterback and receiver as expected. Yesterday, the defensive line showed that all the talk about its amazing depth may be true. If you don't believe it, ask defensive ends coach George Lumpkin.
He's been at UH since Watergate was just a hotel.
He said maybe three full strings are game ready. Now, two weeks before the opener.
"I'm not talking about just being out here (at practice). I'm talking can play," said Lumpkin, a man not known for exaggeration.
One big question mark for the Warriors is special teams. Junior kicker Dan Kelly has a strong leg and some pretty good numbers, but fans tend to remember the misses.
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DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Backup quarterback Inoke Funaki found enough seams in the defense to complete seven of 12 passes yesterday.
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Those days of the Hawaii defense having to borrow linemen from the offense to get through the season might be over.
The Warrior defensive front came at the UH offense in wave after crashing wave yesterday at Aloha Stadium during a 50-play live scrimmage. The quarterbacks were still able to get off most of their passes (their untouchable orange jerseys had something to do with that), but the running game quickly fell into deficit and never got out of the red.
And the top dog on the D-front didn't even participate.
"We have some good depth. We kept Mike (Lafaele, the only returning D-line starter, at tackle) out, we wanted to look at a lot of players," defensive coordinator Greg McMackin said. "I'm happy with the way they came to play, happy with the effort and the enthusiasm."
It could be said that Lafaele's absence was more than balanced by that of starting center John Estes and left guard Hercules Satele sitting this one out also. Second-year freshman Joey Lipp and others handled the snapping -- with just one bad one, and the resourceful Tyler Graunke turned it into a TD to Dylan Linkner.
After Colt Brennan was Colt Brennan, completing seven of eight short passes (he hit some long ones in a superb 7-on-7 turn), Graunke and Inoke Funaki, the No. 2 and No. 3 quarterbacks, took over.
Graunke was sharp, completing 10 of 13 passes and Funaki was seven of 12. Passing accuracy of 24-for-33 is pretty spectacular, even for a group of throwers and catchers returning intact who led the nation in passing offense last year.
Still, the big greenies were the talk of the scrimmage.
"We have eight to 10 guys (on the defensive line) who can really play," coach June Jones said. "And they all showed up today."
"They do a lot of stunting. (Show) blitz, and pop back. They've all got that Coach McMackin scheme going. It's probably going to help us in the games," said Funaki, who admitted that the pressure might have affected the passes more if the QBs were not untouchable. "It's always a lot different with everything going on around you. There were still quite a few balls I need to throw better."
Running backs Leon Wright-Jackson and Kealoha Pilares found the sledding tough, breaking into the second level only on a couple of shovel passes.
"There's nothing much we can do when they penetrate the holes like that," Wright-Jackson said.
Although he didn't gain yards, the Nebraska transfer attained something more important; respect from his coach in the toughness area.
"He showed me what I wanted to see," Jones said. "North-south. He'll do better against other teams that don't know our plays."
The injury-depleted linebackers and recently reinforced secondary weren't bad either, except for a couple of breakdowns involving speedy receivers Mike Washington (who also threw a hellacious block) and C.J. Hawthorne getting behind everybody.
"C.J. Hawthorne is going to give us another dimension this year," Jones said. "He's so fast."
Jones isn't ready to say yet that Hawthorne has the right wideout job sewn up over sophomore Malcolm Lane, who continues to play well through injuries. He has a dislocated finger,
Safety Keao Monteilh popped Wright-Jackson and Pilares, and corner Keenan Jones and end Chris Leatigaga teamed to lay the wood on Jason Rivers after a catch.
Myron Newberry showed well in the 7-on-7 segment, and is gamely hanging on to his starting cornerback spot. Newcomers Ryan Mouton and Calvin Roberts appear as dynamic as advertised, and a year after his arrival, Keenan Jones is living up to his hype. But Gerard Lewis is still the starter on the other side, at least for now.
June Jones said he was impressed with Newberry and Mouton. He also said it's not time to worry about the offensive line.
"We didn't play Herc and John today, and our defensive line is so good it might be the best they play against all year," the head coach said. "We didn't do what we needed to do to run the ball, but I'm seeing a lot of good things in there."
The Warriors have today off and resume practice tomorrow at UH at 7 a.m.