Spring Practice Report: Day Six

The team went with full pads Tuesday and an emphasis on the run game. One back in particular got a lot of work in, and running back coach Lance Reynolds is looking for an able replacement who can take some of the load off of Harvey Unga this coming season. So far so good, as a group of running backs behind Unga are developing well within the system.

"I want to put their feet to the fire a bit and see what's going on there," said running back coach Lance Reynolds when asked about the amount of reps J.J. DiLuigi and Bryan Kariya got during Tuesday's practice. "I want to see them in as many situations as I can this spring with the pressure on them. I want to see them be dependable. To become that dependable workhorse-type guy is what I want to see J.J. become this spring and all our guys become."

Harvey Unga did not participate during Tuesday's practice session due to a class. In his stead, DiLuigi saw all the reps during 11-on-11 drills and touched the football almost every time the ball was snapped. So how did DiLuigi respond?

"He looked good and he has looked his best since he's been here so far this spring," observed Reynolds. "He's quicker, he's hitting the hole harder and he's made the necessary steps that he needs to and I'm happy with what I'm seeing. He‘s playing more confident and is more active and prepared than he has been. We know he's a playmaker, but he's starting to make plays with more consistency, which is what you want."

DiLuigi ran the ball six times for roughly 22 yards during Tuesday's contact drill. They were tough yards, as the defense was crowding the line of scrimmage due to the emphasis on the running game. DiLuigi's best play came on a little flare pass which he took up the field for a 26-yard touchdown after he broke at least two tackles.

"I felt great out there," said DiLuigi about his performance Tuesday. "It's always fun to get a lot of touches, but I just want to do what I need to and help the team. But it's important for me this spring to prove that I'm someone who can help the team when given the chance. So when I get increased reps like I did today I have to respond, and I think I sort of did that today."

Helping Harvey

Along with DiLuigi, Bryan Kariya saw his workload increase Tuesday during Unga's absence. Reynolds noted this as being a good thing, especially since Unga is already a proven player.

"Harvey's fine," said Reynolds. "In fact he's looking as good and as lively and is with it more than he has been since he got here. Harvey is healthy and he's certainly not one of the problems we're having to work through in the backfield. Harvey's as good and is running as well as I've ever seen him."

Since Unga is proven and running as well as he ever has, the focus this spring will be to identify and develop a capable rotating back or backs that can decrease Unga's workload and in turn allow Unga to keep fresh and to be as effective as possible for the duration of the season.

"The problem last year wasn't the amount of carries Harvey got," explained Reynolds. "The problem was the amount of reps he had to take in every game. This spring it certainly is a focus to find a guy that can take those reps away from Harvey, which in turn will increase Harvey's numbers and productivity for the entire season."

Kariya is seeing his reps increase this spring and he has responded well, adding pounds to his frame while improving upon the finer points of his game.

"Bryan is going to be that real reliable and dependable guy who does everything right," said Reynolds. "Guys like that are nice to have since you know that they're always going to do what you expect of them."

While DiLuigi and Kariya both played last year and have practice sessions under their belts ,this spring marks the first practice session for Malosi Te'o, who coaches are hoping can add effectively to the mix at running back.

"His head is kind of spinning out there right now, but we think he's going to be a player," said Reynolds about Malosi. "He's fast, he can catch the ball, he's very physical and he's a very intense learner. He's very focused on whatever we teach him and that's helping him a lot. We like him and we think he's going to do very well as he gets through this spring."

Filling in at Fullback

With Manase Tonga due to join the team this fall and with no other scholarship fullbacks on the roster, the position is obviously a thin one this spring. However, Reynolds is making do with an unlikely player at fullback.

"We're using Braden Brown at fullback and we really like what we've seen from him," noted Reynolds. "He's doing an exceptional job at helping out at both fullback and as our third tight end. He's doing a phenomenal job so far and we hope it continues."

Reynolds hopes that the addition of Tonga this fall, along with the hopeful productive play of freshmen such as Anthony Heimuli and Peni Maka'afi, will help them at fullback. But for right now, they're practicing and preparing as if they won't have any of those players come fall.

"You can't assume anything, so it's our goal to prepare these guys like they'll be playing this fall," said Reynolds. "You can't count on what isn't here, so right now we're depending on guys like Braden Brown and he's responding very well."

Practice Notes

-O'Neill Chambers caught the only touchdown pass of the day on a fade route from eight yards out. Max Hall hit Chambers perfectly on the well-executed play.

-Bernard Afutiti is back and should be joining the team fully by the end of the week. According to Coach Mendenhall, Afutiti has made up the work that he had to and is on course to be academically eligible. Afutiti did not suit up in pads like the rest of the team, but once he goes through the required conditioning he should be seeing a regular practice load.

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