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D-line depth taking hits


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POSTED: Friday, September 18, 2009

LAS VEGAS » Keeping track of who he'll have in position drills has been part of the challenge for George Lumpkin so far this season.

In working with the Warriors' defensive ends, the veteran Hawaii assistant has seen one of the team's most stable positions a year ago shuffled regularly due to injuries.

“;There's been a little bit of musical chairs there and people can't get a handle on who to cheer for,”; Lumpkin said. “;If they just cheer for the position, that'll be good.”;

John Fonoti and David Veikune started every game on the edges of the defensive line last season. Veikune is now in the NFL and Fonoti has yet to suit up for the Warriors this fall due to a knee injury.

Now freshman Paipai Falemalu—who was slated to start against UNLV tomorrow night—will miss the game due to a sprained right ankle suffered in practice on Wednesday.

“;We're just getting hit at that end position,”; UH head coach Greg McMackin said. “;It's football and things happen and a lot of times it hits you in one position. You have to deal with it, then make an adjustment and move on.”;

McMackin said Jake Heun will start on the left side in Falemalu's place when the Warriors (2-0) face the Rebels (1-1) at Sam Boyd Stadium tomorrow. Heun will be backed up by Elliott Purcell, who started against Washington State last week despite missing practice time to a thigh injury.

“;You just have to be physical and get after the guy across from you,”; said Heun, a middle linebacker until last week. “;We're going to have to keep our conditioning up, because there's not too many of us. We're getting pretty dang thin, but we'll be fine.”;

Fonoti suffered a bruise and hyperextension in his knee the week of the season opener and hasn't practiced since. McMackin classified his status as a game-day decision, but wasn't optimistic about Fonoti's chances of playing against the Rebels.

“;He can run but he just can't cut right now. So I think he's going to need more time,”; McMackin said.

Sophomore Liko Satele has drawn praise from coaches and teammates since taking over on the right side. Senior Bo Montgomery rises into a backup role, and could see action in pass-rushing situations.

Victor Clore recovered from a concussion in time to contribute to the rotation against Washington State and has been working on both sides of the line this week.

“;We've got a lot of guys that can step up and play,”; said Montgomery, primarily a special-teams player since transferring from Weber State. “;We don't have as much depth as we hoped, but I think it's good if we can throw guys in and keep guys fresh.”;

Falemalu, another converted linebacker, initially hoped he'd be ready for the game after rolling his ankle on Wednesday. But he was on crutches and wore a protective boot yesterday, resigned to getting healthy for the Western Athletic Conference opener at Louisiana Tech on Sept. 30.

“;I just don't want to hurt him,”; McMackin said. “;He played good enough the week before to be our starter, and he'll get back there.”;

Heun has changed positions several times in less than two years at UH and had four tackles against Washington State last week while rotating into the line.

“;Especially coming down from linebacker, I was surprised how good he plays with his hands and he's real strong and explosive,”; said defensive tackle Vaughn Meatoga, who lines up next to Heun on the left side.

So with two projected starters sitting next to each other on the sidelines at Palo Verde High School yesterday, Lumpkin and defensive line coach Dave Aranda, who concentrates on the tackles, worked to prepare the front for a UNLV offense that can test a defense's discipline.

“;It's a lot more spread offense (than Washington State). But then again, we go against that so much in practice against our people,”; Montgomery said.

 

Numbers game

It's hard to blame Greg Salas for sneaking a peek at the numbers. After all, he's leading the nation with 187.5 receiving yards per game after back-to-back career-best performances to open the season.

But the junior slotback is keeping the sparkling figures in perspective.

“;It's because the team is doing so well that I'm doing well,”; Salas said.

Two of the nation's most productive receivers will be on the field tomorrow. While Salas is off to a torrid pace, UNLV's Ryan Wolfe ranks second in the FBS in receptions among active players. But Salas said he won't be concerned with comparing stats with the All-Mountain West Conference receiver.

“;No, I don't have any personal duels,”; Salas said. “;I'm just trying to go out there and play my game.”;