2008 Hawai'i Preview - Defense

Posted Apr 23, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Hawai'i Warrior Defense

Hawaii Warriors

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Hawaii Preview | 2008 Hawaii Offense
- 2008 Hawaii Defense |
2008 Hawaii Depth Chart
2007 CFN Hawaii Preview | 2006 CFN Hawaii Preview 

What you need to know:
Head coach Greg McMackin won't change much off the 4-3 defense he helped mold into one of the WAC's best. Even though many of the key starters are gone, there's hardly reason to worry. Everything starts with the all-star linebacking combination of Solomon Elimimian and Adam Leonard, while the front four, led by pass rushing terror David Veikune, should be strong, but will drop-off a bit with the most important personnel losses on the D. The secondary replaces its two starting corners but should actually be better with speedster Ryan Mouton healthy and former Oregon Duck, Jameel Dowling, ready to shine. The safeties are a bit suspect and the tackles are a question, but there's good size up front and decent athleticism and experience in the secondary.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Solomon Eliminian, 141
Sacks: David Veikune, 7
Interceptions: Adam Leonard, 4

Star of the defense: Senior LB Solomon Elimimian
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DT Keala Watson
Unsung star on the rise: Senior CB Ryan Mouton
Best pro prospect: Mouton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Elimimian, 2) LB Adam Leonard, 3) DE David Veikune
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, corner speed, pass rush
Weakness of the defense: Defensive tackle, safety

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
While not necessarily considered a returning starter, senior David Veikune could be the team's best player. More of a role player in the rotation last season, all the 6-3, 250-pounder did was earn first-team All-WAC honors by making 34 tackles with a team-leading seven sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. The former Colorado Buffalo is a decent-sized, tackle-strong pass rusher who'll now be the main man for the line.

Starting now on the other side will be 6-3, 250-pound junior John Fonoti, a good reserve last season who made 24 tackles and three sacks in 11 games of work. Very fast and with good strength, he should be able to hold his own in a full-time role.

The one returning starter is 6-1, 290-pound senior Fale Leaeli, a good interior pass rusher who made 25 tackles and 2.5 sacks with 6.5 tackles for loss. Originally considered a backup, he started every game at left tackles and got better and better as the season went on. 

Taking over for all-star Michael Lafaele, the anchor of last year's defensive front, is 6-3, 300-pound senior Keala Watson. With great size and good run stuffing ability, he stepped in and made 17 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. He missed the 2004 season with a blood disorder, and while he has been fine, this is the year he should finally break through and be a major producer.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior C.J. Allen Jones is a safety playing defensive end. With tremendous speed, he has been used mostly as a linebacker so far making seven tackles in six games last year after starting late in 2006. He's only 6-2 and 220 pound and will be used as a pass rusher in tandem with Veikune.

6-3, 275-pound senior Joshua Leonard might not be all that big for the interior, but he's more than strong enough to make up for it. A ridiculously weight-room-strong speed rusher, he came over from the JUCO ranks to make 12 tackles with 2.5 sacks. He'll start out behind Laeli, but he could be moved around.

How quickly will Geordon Hanohano be ready? A top recruit who had several offers from bigger-name schools, he's a 6-2, 270-pound true freshman with the size and talent to be a factor right away. Redshirting would be nice, but he could be too good to keep off the field.

Watch Out For ... Veikune to blow up with more time on the field. He only had to do one thing on a regular basis last year, and he did it really well. Now he's the main man up front and he needs to be ready to play like it.
Strength: Pass rush. This was supposed to be a problem going into last year, but with a pass rush from all four spots, and with help from the back seven, the Warriors led the WAC in both sacks and tackles for loss. While the production will drop off, it won't fall off the map.
Weakness: Run defense. The stats were fine, but most teams that could run the ball did so without too much of a problem. Without stars Amani Purcell and Michael Lafaele to count on, the overall run D production could slide a bit.
Outlook: The defense moved from a 3-4 to a 4-3 last year with tremendous results. While, technically, three starters need to be replaced, there's great depth and good fill-ins for the departed players. This will be a strong pass rushing line that could be a bit vulnerable up the middle. Even so, it'll be way above average compared to most WAC lines.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters
The Warriors have the WAC's best linebacking tandem in seniors Solomon Elimimian in the middle and Adam Leonard on the weak side. The 6-0, 224-pound Elimimian led the team with 141 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss on the way to first-team All-WAC honors. A tackling machine, he has made 313 stops in his three years using his defensive back speed and fantastic range to get in on every play. He doesn't miss a tackle.

The 6-0, 235-pound Leonard also earned first-team All-WAC honors finishing second on the team with 105 stops with two sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss, and four interceptions despite having a banged up knee. A fantastic hitter who makes big plays all over the field, he's tough enough to play in the middle and fast enough to be a star on the outside. Excellent in pass coverage, he does a little of everything well.

The new starter to the mix, taking over for Brad Kalilimoku, who made 46 tackles and was great at getting into the backfield, is 6-1, 240-pound junior Blaze Soares. A great-sized strongside option, he was a key reserve last season making 27 tackles, two sacks and six tackles for loss in nine games. He has good upside as a pass rusher but will be more valuable against the run.

Projected Top Reserves: Ready to be part of the fun on the strongside is 6-3, 220-pound redshirt freshman Kevin Konrath, a Chicago native who was a nice recruit for the program. While smaller than Soares, Konrath can move and will be a good pass rusher.

6-1, 220-pound senior Tyson Kafentzis has spent most of his career on special teams. A smart, tough player who has seen a little bit of time here and there at linebacker, he'll once again be a special teamer while playing behind Leonard on the weakside.

Sophomore Mana Lolotai is an untested backup for the middle who made two tackles as a true freshman, and now needs to be more of a factor behind Elimimian. At 6-0 and 235 pounds, he has good size and enough quickness to become excellent on special teams.

Watch Out For ... Soares. Supposed to be a star last year, it never happened and he became a good backup. Now with experience, and with Elimimian and Leonard to work with, Soares should make around 70 stops.
Strength: Elimimian and Leonard. The two have combined for 541 tackles over their careers, and they'll be a lock to finish with well over 750 stops if they stay healthy.
Weakness: Depth. There isn't any. The starters have been such rocks over the last few years that the depth hasn't been sufficiently developed. The corps could go from a big strength to a major weakness in a big hurry if injuries strike.
Outlook: The strength of the defense, the linebacking corps has Elimimian and Leonard to revolve around. The backups are untested and shaky, and they'll have to be worked in slowly to be ready to produce as the year goes on and into next year. Last year was about the offensive stars, and even though Elimimian and Leonard earned first-team all-star honors, they'll get their due this season.
Rating: 6.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
The biggest loss from an overall production standpoint is Jacob Patek, the team's third leading tackler. Looking to step in at strong safety is Keah Monteilh, a good veteran who has seen time as both a free safety and a corner. He made 19 tackles last season with two interceptions and three broken up passes at free safety before getting knocked out for the year with a shoulder injury. At 5-11 and 195 pounds, he'll have to prove he can be a big-hitting tackler, and he has to prove he can hold up for a full season.

Technically, the one returning starter is senior Desmond Thomas, a 6-3, 175-pound speedster who's built more like a big corner but has the range and tackling ability to be a solid free safety. He took over when Monteilh went down and ended up finishing fourth on the team with 56 tackles with an interception and 2.5 tackles for loss. While not an all-star last year, he has that sort of potential.

Senior corner Ryan Mouton has warp-speed and now he has to use it. Clocking in a 4.28, the former star JUCO transfer should be able to grow into a lock-down defender now that he has more responsibility. Even though he was never 100% healthy, he was a good reserve last season making 26 tackles with a sack, two interceptions and seven broken up passes. Now that he's right, he should be the best corner the team has had in years.

Moving in at the other corner spot will be 6-3, 205-pound senior Jameel Dowling after sitting out last year. The former Oregon Duck has tremendous size, track-star speed, setting records as a JUCO sprinter, and good skills. While Mouton is the team's best corner, Dowling has the skills to get looks from NFL types if he comes up with a great year.

Projected Top Reserves: 5-9, 177-pound JUCO transfer Jeremy Bryant isn't as big or as fast as Mouton or Dowling, but he's a player. He broke up 17 passes for Los Angeles Harbor College and was a good tackler. He'll start out behind Mouton, but he could see plenty of action as a nickel and dime back. 

Erik Robinson spent last year as a reserve making 13 tackles at both safety spots, and now he'll see time behind Monteilh at strong safety. The 5-11, 195-pound senior came through with a nice game against Washington and was good enough at the end of the year to demand more playing time.

Watch Out For ... an upgrade at corner. Last year's pair of Gerald Lewis and Myron Newberry were strong, but they weren't nearly as talented as Mouton and Dowling.
Strength: Speed. Mouton and Dowling can move. Really move. These two might have had interesting routes to Hawaii, but they're Pac 10 talents who will blow up for the Warriors.
Weakness: Safety. Can Monteilh last a full season and can he really replace Patek? Thomas is a good free safety with all-star potential, but he needs to do more against the pass.
Outlook: Helped by one of the nation's best pass rushes, the secondary improved by leaps and bounds as it came up with a strong year in the pass-happy WAC. Even though the team was involved in several shootouts, there was good production, and now three starters need to be replaced. Even so, Mouton and Dowling are players, and if the safeties can be competent, the secondary could be even better than last season.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Senior Dan Kelly is a good veteran with a nice leg, but he has to be a bit better from deep. More importantly than anything else, he's extremely clutch and connected on all six of his field goal attempts inside 40 yards, but he was four-of-nine from 40-to-49 yards.

Senior Tim Grasso came in from the JUCO ranks and struggled thanks to an injured hamstring. He didn't have to punt that often, just 35 times, but he put 10 kicks inside the 20 and averaged 39.7 yards per kick.

WR Malcolm Lane is an elite kickoff returner averaging 29.2 yards per try with two touchdowns, while the lightning-fast Ryan Mouton will help out after averaging 29.6 yards per try with a score.

Davone Bess averaged a decent 9.7 yards per punt return, but Michael Washington averaged 20.8 yards on his five tries with an 80-yard touchdown.

Watch Out For ... the special teams to be among the best in the WAC if the coverage teams can be better. The return game should be explosive while Kelly is as clutch as they come.
Strength: Kelly and the returners. If Kelly can be a bit more consistent from 40-to-49 yards, he should be a lock for all-star recognition. Lane, Mouton and Washington are special.
Weakness: Coverage units. Awful over the last few years, the punt coverage team allowed a ridiculous 17.9 yards per return while the kick return unit allowed 23.9 yards per try with two scores.
Outlook: The special teams upgraded last year and should be strong again. Now that Grasso is healthy, he should be able to put more blast on his kicks. Kelly is solid, and the return game will be fantastic. Now the coverage teams have to come around.
Rating: 7.5