D-line fresh for stretch run


POSTED: Friday, November 21, 2008

Some of the aches Hawaii's defensive tackles suffered through earlier this season could ultimately have benefits in the Warriors' stretch run.

The Warriors' interior linemen have worked through various injuries throughout the season, but enter their final three games relatively healthy and with greater depth.

After recovering from injuries, seniors Josh Leonard, Keala Watson and Fale Laeli are expected to see heavier action tomorrow than in previous weeks when the Warriors (5-5, 4-3 Western Athletic Conference) face Idaho (2-9, 1-6) at Aloha Stadium.

Junior Rocky Savaiigaea was limited to one game prior to having season-ending surgery on his torn triceps. Although the rotation was depleted at times, freshman Vaughn Meatoga and junior Tuika Tufaga were given a chance to develop under game conditions and senior Francis Maka was added to the rotation to bolster the pass rush.

“;Vaughn had so many reps, Tuika had so many reps, I think it's paying off now,”; said UH assistant Ikaika Malloe, who works with the tackles.

Leonard said his ankle is “;back to normal.”; Defensive line coach Dave Aranda said Laeli, hampered by a series of injuries early on, will play a more prominent role this week after seeing spot duty in recent games.

The staff has also come up with more specialized combinations. Meatoga and Maka rotate into the line in pass-rush downs and saw extensive playing time against New Mexico State's air attack. With a more balanced Idaho team up next, Watson, Leonard and Laeli figure to see more snaps.

“;They're fired up for it,”; Aranda said. “;They didn't get a lot of playing time in the last game. So they're very excited to be able to play their style.”;

Meatoga, a redshirt freshman from Kamehameha, made his first career start in place of Watson at Utah State and was credited with his first solo sack against New Mexico State.

“;Vaughn is one of our more productive guys now,”; Aranda said, “;where at the beginning of the year in the Oregon State game we had to play him out of necessity in a sense, now we're trying to find ways to play him.”;

As a whole, the defensive line has gotten after the quarterback more often in the second half of the season. Warriors linemen had two sacks in UH's first seven games. They have nine in the last three, 5 1/2 credited to defensive end David Veikune.

“;In the first few games we were playing our gaps only and nothing else, just focusing on your job,”; Watson said. “;The last couple games, guys have gotten more comfortable at their positions.”;


Alo on his way

Kahuku safety Kamalani Alo trained with former Red Raiders Richard Torres and Paipai Falemalu over the summer. He figures to be spending a lot more time with the current Warriors next year after committing to UH.

“;It's kind of tough thinking of college and making the decision of where to go,”; said Alo, who was also looking at Utah and Oregon State. “;I was just fortunate enough to get a scholarship to UH.”;

Alo (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) began the season at outside linebacker, but was moved to safety to better utilize his speed.

“;We said we need to get him in the backfield so he can cover more ground,”; Kahuku coach Reggie Torres said.

“;He's got great speed for his size, but that's not the only thing—it's his work ethic. (The UH coaches) know he's a good athlete, but the thing that really got them was his work ethic.”;


Injury update

Hawaii running back Daniel Libre returned to practice yesterday after missing Wednesday's workout and took some repetitions in the backfield. Safety Erik Robinson was held out of practice to rest his hamstring.