THE OFFENSIVE LINE
Hard-Hit Area: UConn's O-Line Tired Of The Criticism
George DeLeone, the line coach and associate head coach, has said the same thing.
“I like the way they’re communicating with each other, which is an awfully big part of the experience factor,” Pasqualoni said. “The execution, regardless of whether it’s the run or pass protections ... it’s very very hard to function at a high level if there’s not guys that know what they’re doing and can communicate.
“The more they know each other, the more they’re familiar with how each other blocks, pass-protects. I think that adds to the overall confidence, the overall execution.”
Left tackle Jimmy Bennett (6 feet 9, 307 pounds), left guard Steve Greene (6-5, 308), center Tyler Bullock (6-4, 316) and right tackle Kevin Friend (6-6, 317) are roommates. They’re all seniors. They’re all returning starters. They’re all 23, except Greene, who joins the club in December. Junior right guard Gus Cruz (6-4, 309) started four games last season. Junior center Alex Mateas (6-4, 315) was named to start the opener against Towson because of an injury to Bullock.
“The onus is on those seniors to get us right,” DeLeone said. “And I think we’ve made some progress mentally in the past year, which is a positive.”
For the better part of a year, the linemen have had to answer for last season, when the Huskies struggled to run the ball (117th of 120 teams in the country), pass it (65th) and score points (118th). The Huskies, once known for their running game, rushed for less than 88 yards a game.
“I don’t mean to be a jerk, but I am tired of hearing how bad we were,” Bennett said. “That’s the biggest motivation for me. Everyone knows we played bad, and I’m tired of hearing it. I want to step up. We all do.”
Added Greene: “That’s the consensus right there and provides that chip on the shoulder that gives us that edge that we need to play with. It’s been the driving force for us through the spring, the summer, that we want to be great. We’re tired of being average and tired of losing.”
There must be an understanding of what went wrong.
“When you replace key guys and don’t have as much experience in key places, there is a very, very fine line,” Pasqualoni said, referring to players who left before his arrival. “And it’s a very, very small margin, but the margin of error, especially with the offensive linemen, is very small.
“This group has a lot to prove. We flat-out didn’t play well enough a year ago, so they’ve got that chip on their shoulder and a lot to prove.”
DeLeone, who was vociferous in dealing with the line the past two seasons, has been pretty quiet with the group, one signal that he sees improvement.
“It’s hard to do worse than we did last year,” Bennett said. “The good thing is, we’ve got a lot of chemistry now and a lot of consistency too, especially with the zone scheme. We’ve got a new offensive coordinator [T.J. Weist], but we still have a lot of the same zone schemes, a lot of the same calls.
“The big thing is just building on what we did in the spring. We got better in the spring. I feel like we’ve done that in preseason camp. If we can just build on that during the season, we’ll be OK.”