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Lots of position battles going on along Hawaii's defensive line


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POSTED: Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The game experience Elliott Purcell gained in a reserve role last season could prove valuable this fall.

The time he spent simply watching David Veikune perform at defensive end provided benefits as well.

“;A lot of stuff,”; Purcell said of the lessons he gleaned while backing up Veikune. “;Just his motor, just his hustle, he was always hustling to the ball. I'm trying to emphasize that this year, always running to the ball.”;

Purcell has been running first in the rotation at left defensive end early in fall camp, part of a defensive front replacing three starters, including two now in NFL training camps — Veikune (Cleveland Browns) and tackle Josh Leonard (Houston Texans). Senior leaders Keala Watson and Fale Laeli also completed their careers last season.

Defensive end John Fonoti is the lone returning starter in the group after recording 62 tackles last season, 9 1/2 for losses, while starting on the right side of the line.

Others such as Purcell and tackles Vaughn Meatoga and Tuika Tufaga rotated into the lineup and are working to step into leading roles this fall.

“;(Last year's experience) makes me a lot more confident on the field,”; said Meatoga, who saw extensive playing time as a redshirt freshman. “;Especially since we don't have that much experience on the line with only John returning, I feel like I'm obligated to step up and try to lead the guys.”;

Meatoga trimmed down to 290 in the offseason while maintaining his strength. Rocky Savaiigaea also returns in better condition after training in Arizona over the summer.

Freshman Geordon Hanohano and junior college transfer Zach Masch rotated in with the second unit yesterday.

UH head coach Greg McMackin places heavy emphasis on the tackles in the 4-3 scheme, relying on them to hold the point in the middle of the line to free up the linebackers to make plays.

“;I call our defensive tackles 'gold' because they're so important in our package,”; McMackin said. “;We can't run this package without good tackles.”;

Along with Purcell, Cameron Allen-Jones and Victor Clore are among the contenders at left defensive end. Freshman Paipai Falemalu moved to the line from outside linebacker to open camp last week, adding speed to the line.

“;All of them are giving us a good run for our money,”; offensive tackle Laupepa Letuli said. “;We have to do the same thing and just make each other better.”;

But the process of replacing the talent and experience of last year's line isn't without some growing pains.

“;Everyone's got the right mind-set, everyone's smart, they all worked hard in the offseason. We're all set up to do it; now we just have to do it,”; defensive line coach Dave Aranda said.

“;All of our guys can tell you what to do and when to do it. But going against an experienced offensive line like ours, and going under a fast pace in team (periods), doing it in those conditions, that's a whole other thing.”;

And getting the line to put pressure on the quarterback would in turn take some pressure off a secondary also in rebuilding mode.

“;We're working toward that ideal,”; Aranda said. “;Any time we can get a four-man rush, like we did last year at the end of the season, I think were going to be successful. Our goal is to be able to rush four guys and get pressure, but we've got a long way to go.”;

Family time

Being largely sequestered in the dance studios for fall camp can be tough for those Warriors with families, Purcell among them.

“;It's tough not seeing my family,”; Purcell said. “;After practice I'll run with (his son, Taimane) and play with him. That's the only time I get with them because we're in meetings all day.”;

Class time

Several players were out of practice or left early due to summer school classes.

“;I told our guys class is more important than practice,”; McMackin said.

Some of the absences gave others a chance to get repetitions with the first unit.

Receiver Royce Pollard has been practicing on the left side, but was first in the rotation on the right side, where Jovonte Taylor — who had a class yesterday morning — has been starting since camp began.

Pollard said there are subtle differences in switching sides of the formation, from which foot to lead with to hand positioning when catching the ball, “;but overall I practice to play both sides. ... Anything to play.”;

Sophomore Austin Hansen practiced with the first unit at right guard in place of Ray Hisatake, and freshman Drew Uperesa saw action on the left side when Raphael Ieru had to leave.

The second summer session ends on Friday. The players then have a break from the books until the fall semester begins on Aug. 24.

Salas on watch list

Wide receiver Greg Salas was one of 37 players named to the Fred Biletnikoff Award watch list yesterday.

Salas, a 6-2, 200-pound junior, led the Warriors with 831 receiving yards last season.