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Hawaii's defense moves to forefront in practice


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POSTED: Sunday, August 16, 2009

“;THE DEFENSE WON!”;

Somebody in a green jersey shouted it at the end of yesterday's practice, and, yes, the Hawaii defense had won. The Warriors put on a stick-and-pick show rarely seen on the grass practice field the past decade.

But the defense—and the team itself—lost, too. Starting middle linebacker Brashton Satele's recurring shoulder injury knocked him out of practice again. If Satele can't play when the season starts, it's a huge blow to a young defense just beginning to regain its confidence. Mana Lolotai is capable, but UH cannot afford preseason hits to the depth of even its strongest units, like linebacker and wide receiver (where Malcolm Lane has been lost for the season due to academics).

OPINIONS VARY on how much the full-contact drill of only passing favors the defense.

“;The receivers were almost on a suicide mission,”; quarterback Greg Alexander said. “;We were just doing our best not to get them killed.”;

It wasn't pretty, and he used a word that rhymes with it to aptly describe the offense's morning overall.

The young defenders didn't have to sweat the run, and if they're not intimately familiar with the pass routes by now they're probably going to struggle with Intro to Sociology, too. But no pass rush helps the offense. Plays kept going long after the QB likely would've been sacked or at least chased from the pocket.

If the deck was stacked, it wasn't significant enough to make everything uphill for the offense.

The key to the whole thing was a reception. In a game, it's the kind of play that sparks the offense—a gutsy grab and the receiver hangs on despite a vicious whack from the safety. But in a scrimmage like this, it psyches up the defense.

“;You've been waiting to do that all camp,”; fellow defensive back Richard Torres told Mana Silva after he knocked Jett Jasper halfway back to Kauai.

“;When I saw him on the ground and he still had the ball, I thought, 'Damn,'”; Silva said.

But it didn't bother his defensive mates. In this format, a catch doesn't move the scoreboard or chains. It doesn't even move the football, except back to the original line of scrimmage for another play.

It became a steady flow of defenders laying out receivers, or jumping routes and intercepting passes. Players—competing for open positions—continually outdid each other.

It left defensive coordinator Cal Lee with a grin.

“;It's the excitement of it,”; the old linebacker said. “;You get all excited when those things happen.”;

Silva made it sound easy; maybe it was to some degree.

“;Just react off the ball and read the routes,”; the junior safety said. “;You gotta jack up the rest of the defense, it's a good simulation.”;

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Ron Lee hobbled off the field trying to make the best of it.

“;It was good for us, good for everyone,”; he said.

The receivers got bopped because they ran too far downfield and didn't find the right places in the zones, Lee said. They'll learn from it, sore ribs as a reminder.

His troops—who torched the defense in the spring game—were now the ones suffering the indignity of what the mealy mouthed now call a teachable moment. The kids call it being owned.

I've always felt it's better to learn from the mistakes of others. But if you gotta make 'em, now's the time.