Hawaii receivers have some catching up to do
|Photo gallery: UH Football Practice|
By Stephen Tsai
By Stephen Tsai
Whenever a Hawai'i football player catches a pass in 7-on-7 or team drills, he will keep running and running - Gump style - until he reaches the end zone.
It is a learn-by-rote reminder that catching a pass is only the first part of a receiver's duties.
"We want the receivers to think about the yards after the catch," said Craig Stutzmann, who coaches the UH receivers.
This season, the Warriors have been suffering from post-catch blues. The yards-after-catch (YAC) averages have dropped significantly for three of the four starting receivers. Only Greg Salas, the left wideout, has improved, slightly - from a YAC average of 2.67 last year to 3.00 in the first three games this season.
Salas' predecessor, wideout Jason Rivers, had a YAC average of 5.20 in 2007.
Right wideout Malcolm Lane has incurred the most dramatic decline, with his YAC average falling from 9.14 last year to 4.33 this season.
Starting slotbacks Michael Washington and Aaron Bain have YAC averages of 3.56 and 3.50, respectively. Last year's slotbacks, Ryan Grice-Mullins and Davone Bess, averaged 6.58 and 6.30, respectively.
"From my standpoint, the balls we did catch (in the past game against Oregon State) were passes headed to the sideline, or quick out routes with the defender right there," Washington said.
Indeed, the Warriors' YAC problems could be traced to an offense that is under construction. There have been three different starting quarterbacks in as many games. And not including shovel passes, which are essentially running plays, the Warriors have completed 51.5 percent of their passes.
Last week, seven passes were thrown in Lane's direction, but only one was considered to be catchable.
"We have to complete the pass before we start worrying, 'Oh, Hawai'i's not getting that many yards after the catch,' " Lane said. "We need to worry about catching the ball first."
The four No. 1 receivers are first-year starters. Washington and Bain, both seniors, backed up Grice-Mullins and Bess the past three seasons. Salas and Lane are third-year Warriors.
"It's a matter of time before everybody breaks loose," Bain said.
Stutzmann agreed, saying the receivers need more time in a "game-like setting."
Stutzmann said the more experience a receiver attains, the easier it will be to get a "feel" for the defense, and where the openings will be after catches.
"It's a matter of getting comfortable with making plays, and not being (hesitant) to catch a ball and be creative with it," Stutzmann said. "You can coach guys to catch the ball. You can coach guys to run routes. You can emphasize runs after the catch, but, really, that's where your athleticism takes over."
And that is why in passing drills, the play ends in the end zone.
"They say you practice how you play," Washington said. "We're going to carry that to the game on Saturday."
GRAUNKE '80 PERCENT'
Quarterback Tyler Graunke yesterday competed in 7-on-7 drills for the first time since suffering an injury to his right (throwing) hand in the Sept. 13 game against Oregon State.
Graunke was held out of team drills.
But head coach Greg McMackin said that is not a concern and that Graunke remains on track to start this weekend.
"I think I'm about 75, 80 percent right now," Graunke said.
He said there still is some pain, and "I don't have all of the velocity I want" on passes. But he said the swelling has subsided in the injured area -Ęthe base of his right thumb, which connects to his wrist - and "I can move it a lot more."
He also said his "unstable" left knee is healthy.
"I plan on doing nothing but playing this weekend, playing four quarters," Graunke said.
Keoni Steinhoff, the No. 1 right tackle, resumed practicing yesterday.
Steinhoff is recovering from a fracture in his left index finger. Yesterday, he wore gloves, and his index and middle finger were taped together.
The injury is not as crucial because he is right-handed and plays on the right side of the offensive line.
Still, he needs both hands for his punch technique.
He said his treatment involves "icing it, and wrapping it with a splint. That's all I can do."
REUNION FOR ROBERTS
Saturday's game will be a reunion of sorts for cornerback Calvin Roberts.
In February 2007, Roberts turned down a UH offer to sign with San Jose State. But the NCAA stripped the Spartans of seven football scholarships for failing to meet specific academic goals.
The Spartans were forced to rescind Roberts' scholarship. After an anxious month, Roberts received a second scholarship offer from the Warriors.
"There are no hard feelings," he said. "I ended up here. This is what the man upstairs wanted me to do."
The Warriors went 12-0 during the 2007 regular season, winning the Western Athletic Conference championship. The Spartans were 5-7.
"I've got the ring," Roberts said.
Saturday's ticket prices: $38 (sideline), $32 (South end zone), $25 (North end zone: adult), $22 (North end zone: senior citizens), $12 (students ages 4 through high school), $5 (UH students). Video Streaming: http://uhstreaming.oceanic.com. Live stats: www.Hawaiiathletics.com.
Reach Stephen Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org.