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Special teams tinkering


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POSTED: Thursday, October 15, 2009

Before the Hawaii football team departed on its third road trip of the season, the Warriors did some special teams maintenance at home.

Coach Greg McMackin wasn't ready to nail down his lead punt returner against Western Athletic Conference leader Idaho (5-1, 2-0) on Saturday. He maintained it's a “;game-time decision”; whether star slotback Greg Salas had taken the place of Ryan Henry, who had fielded all the team's punts until a muff in last week's loss to Fresno State.

But yesterday at UH, there were strong indications that Salas has the nod over Henry. Salas, the nation's leader in receiving yardage (136 yards per game), got the first rotations in punting drills, while Henry took the seconds.

Last Saturday, Salas took over for the Warriors (2-3, 0-2) against the Bulldogs, going 32 yards in the second half on the first return of his college career. He has no qualms with posting some double duty to help set up quarterback Bryant Moniz.

“;It's what everybody does at every school, you know,”; said Salas, who has experience returning punts from his days at Chino (Calif.) High. “;It's not really one person set at just one spot, you know. If I can help on special teams, I'll help on special teams, too.”;

Henry was determined to make up for his turnover (on which Fresno scored), and posted an all-around solid practice with some nice catches before the team departed for Seattle. From Seattle, the Warriors took a charter flight to Pullman, Wash., where they'll stay until the game at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho.

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“;I'm here to support my teammates and I wish (Salas) the best of luck back there,”; said Henry, who has a 6.2-yard average on 11 returns. “;I just gotta be ready for whenever my number's called again, continue to compete, and keep fighting every day to get on the field.”;

Meanwhile, junior wideout Jovonte Taylor made his strongest strides yet in a return from a nagging ankle injury to project as the team's leading kickoff return man against the Vandals.

With Royce Pollard missing the trip with a stress fracture in his leg, Taylor is poised to reclaim the starting jobs at kick returner and right wideout that he had at the start of the season — despite some lasting pain in his left foot.

“;Right now I'm just trying to fight through the pain, you know,”; Taylor said. “;Royce Pollard, he's down right now, so I mean, I basically gotta step up and fight through this. I'm not injured. It's not like I can't go. You gotta be able to fight through pain.”;

Slotback Dustin Blount is making his first road trip and offers another option to field kickoffs. He took the second rounds behind Taylor yesterday.

“;That felt pretty good, and it also raised my confidence up,”; Blount said. “;I'm pretty sure since they're taking me on the trip that I'll get a return or two back there. I'm really excited.”;

More work for Hansen

Sophomore offensive lineman Austin Hansen spent all of practice at right tackle again yesterday filling in for Adrian Thomas, who was in turn filling in for the injured Laupepa Letuli.

Hansen, who came in during the second half last week against Fresno State when Thomas went out with a sore back, has practiced at left and right guard before his most recent assignment at right tackle. He was flagged for a couple of false-start penalties there against the Bulldogs.

“;It's getting to feel more comfortable,”; Hansen said. “;I'm just trying to work on my feet, work on my sets and make sure I don't do anything silly technique-wise to hurt the team. I just want to do the job that I'm given by (O-line) Coach (Gordy) Shaw.”;

Catch of the day

On a day of impressive catches (and interceptions), reserve wideout Joe Avery had the best haul. During 7-on-7 drills, the 6-foot-5 Avery collided with safety Spencer Smith, who had a bead on a pick. But the receiver gathered both himself and the ball on his way to the ground and held on as Smith landed on him.