CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Solomon Elimimian's hamstring was good enough for him to participate in workouts yesterday.
’Backers easing back
Injuries have forced Hawaii's linebackers to work themselves back into action
STORY SUMMARY »
The three Hawaii linebackers projected to form the starting group this season haven't been on the field together much since the start of fall camp.
The Star-Bulletin will preview Hawaii's opponents every day until the start of the season. See today's story on B8:
Monday: Northern Colorado
Tomorrow: Charleston Southern
Saturday: Utah State
Sunday: San Jose State
Monday: New Mexico State
Aug. 28: Fresno State
Aug. 29: Nevada
Aug. 30: Boise State
Aug. 31: Washington
Injuries relegated Adam Leonard, Solomon Elimimian and Blaze Soares to observing most practices, but they're now easing back into action with the season opener 10 days away.
All three participated in yesterday's practice in limited capacity.
Leonard and Elimimian have been nursing hamstrings, while Soares is working his way back from a shoulder injury.
"They went just for a while. They started to get tight. I'm not worried because they know what to do," head coach June Jones said.
"We just want to ease our way into it," Elimimian said. 'It's early in the season. We don't want to rush back because we don't want it to linger on."
With the starters out, those behind them on the depth chart have had the opportunity to prove themselves to the coaches.
"Guys are stepping up," Elimimian said. "R.J. (Kiesel-Kauhane) is a sleeper, he's out there and playing really well. Timo (Paepule's) taken it upon himself to lead at the middle linebacker, and Brad (Kalilimoku) is as good as any of us."
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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
UH linebackers coach Cal Lee gave Adam Leonard some pointers during yesterday's practice.
Slowly, but surely, Hawaii's projected starting linebacker corps is coming together.
Adam Leonard, Solomon Elimimian and Blaze Soares aren't quite at full speed yet, but the three were back on the field and suited up for yesterday's practice.
They all saw limited duty, easing their way back from injuries with an eye on being ready for next week's season opener against Northern Colorado.
Leonard and Elimimian have missed recent practices with tight hamstrings, an ailment that can linger if not treated properly. Soares suffered a stinger in his shoulder early in fall camp. So the twosome has taken a gradual approach. They competed in position drills yesterday, but were held out of team periods.
"I just want to make sure I don't get out there and pull anything, but also try to get it where I can start stretching it out and running again," Leonard said. "We're just taking it slowly and making sure I'm ready for the first game.
"With the hamstring it's hard to tell, you don't want to get out there, re-injure it and be out even longer. So we're just trying to play it safe, but push it where I can get back as soon as possible."
The starting linebackers -- with Elimimian in the middle and Leonard and Soares on the edges -- will be one of the strengths of the Warrior defense, if they stay healthy. Leonard led the team with 114 total tackles last season, followed by Elimimian's 89. Soares was slotted as the incumbent at stub linebacker following a strong spring practice.
But most of their work recently has been limited to learning the schemes in the meeting room and through observing from the sideline.
"It's definitely frustrating as competitors when your teammates are out there having fun and practicing. You want to be out there with your team," Elimimian said. "I understand it's early in the season and Coach wants us to make sure we come back able to perform."
Said Leonard: "Nothing beats (practice), but the most important thing if I'm out is to make sure I pay as much attention as possible so when I get in there I know everything."
Despite the injuries, linebacker appears to be one of the Warriors deeper positions.
With the trio taking it slow, C.J. Allen-Jones, Timo Paepule and Brad Kalilimoku (already considered a starter by defensive coordinator Greg McMackin) worked with the first defense yesterday. The increased repetitions have helped some who started farther down the depth chart get up to speed with the 4-3 system.
"I feel a lot more comfortable than before," said Paepule, who has played in Elimimian's spot. "At first I was a little shaky. I understand what Solomon goes through now, he has a lot of pressure. Being in that middle you're like the quarterback of the defense. We have a good relationship, we trained together this summer, we're real tight, we help each other out. It's good competition."
R.J. Kiesel-Kauhane, a sophomore from Aiea, was also among those to get more repetitions in camp and has moved up the depth chart in recent practices.
"R.J. has just been a pleasant surprise," linebackers coach Cal Lee said. "It shows in the offseason he worked hard. He came in prepared and ready to go. He's getting a lot of reps and in return he's become a better player. He's a guy we wouldn't be afraid to put in and play.
"The best thing that came out of this is we had a chance to look at more guys and find players who want to play."
Colt Brennan was among 35 candidates on the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award watch list released yesterday.
The watch list is based on All-America teams and honorable mentions published in preseason college football magazines.
Other candidates the Warriors will face are UNLV's Rocky Hinds and New Mexico State's Chase Holbrook.
The good-natured smack talk was flowing during a 7-on-7 red zone period between the offense and defense.
The defense rolled early with Jake Patek breaking up two passes, Myron Newberry and Dane Porlas intercepting Brennan passes in the end zone, and Erik Robinson picking off Inoke Funaki.
"Watch these next two plays," chirped Brennan, who proceeded to throw strikes to Jason Rivers and Malcolm Lane for scores to end the period.
"It's always like that, it's just fun," said Paepule, who tipped a pass in the drill. "We have to let Colt know it ain't gonna be easy, we're gonna bring it. ... (When Brennan starts talking) we know he's in the zone."
Comings and goings
Sophomore backup offensive lineman Raphael Ieru was walking up and down the hill at the practice field. He said his knee injury from two years ago was "acting up."
Sophomore defensive end John Fonoti missed a second straight day of practice. He said both heels were bothering him. Fonoti said he expects to return to workouts by the end of the week.
Senior cornerback Ryan Keomaka was at practice. Freshman receiver Joe Avery, who was awaiting clearance from the NCAA, was back in uniform and practicing.
BACK TO TOP
Estes returns to solidify offensive line
With the season-opening game just 10 days away, sophomore center John Estes' return to practice has helped solidify the offensive line.
Estes hopes to shore up a center position that has struggled with the quarterback exchanges in his absence.
"I felt like I had to get back on the field as fast as possible," Estes said. "We have this little thing called chemistry where we're acting like lab scientists and we're all trying to get all our ingredients together to make our offensive line."
Chemistry was the theme of yesterday's practice. Several potential starters mentioned how important it is for them to develop the same bond that was shared by the seniors from a season ago.
"Us five have been together for a couple years now, so we just need to continue to build together," junior Keoni Steinhoff said.
Steinhoff entered camp at left tackle with Keith AhSoon on the right. Several practices ago they were switched, and the season will likely open with Steinhoff on the right and AhSoon on the left.
With Larry Sauafea and Hercules Satele anchoring the guard spots, the unit is looking for consistency and cohesion by taking reps together.
"(Yesterday) was our second day practicing with our first unit and we're trying to get back in a groove now," Sauafea said. "It's just a matter of time."
But coach June Jones said there still might be a change.
"I still think there might be one spot in there where we make an adjustment, but it's been coming along," Jones said. "Lafu (Tuioti-Mariner) had a great camp. We're gonna try experimenting with a couple of things (Wednesday)."
Tuioti-Mariner has split time at the guard and center spots, but played primarily as the backup center during yesterday's practice.