If you’re searching for reasons to feel optimistic about this year’s UConn football team, you’ll have to dig all the way down to the must underappreciated unit on any team: the offensive line.
This was one of the few areas of the team that got to build a good amount of continuity last year. Four out of the five starters return, all of them starting every game last year. The four returners — right tackle Matt Peart, left tackle Ryan Van Demark, and guards Nino Leone and Cam DeGeorge — have 48 starts between them.
In 2019, the big nasties did their best work in the running game, helping Pindell to a 1,000-yard rushing season, while bulldozing their way to the 39th offense in the country in yards per rush attempt.
With offensive line coach Frank Giufre now heading up the entire offensive, you can expect this trend to continue, especially with Kevin Mensah — a 1000-yard rusher last year — and highly-touted Toledo transfer Art Thompkins, a former three-star recruit who’s averaged 6.2 yards per carry in his career.
“You’re gonna see similar to what you saw last year in terms of personnel and what we’re bringing to the table,” Giufre said. “We’re really excited about the guys we have.”
Even with a reliance on the run game, it’s more than likely that the line will have to excel in pass blocking behind a newbie quarterback. Mike Beaudry, a transfer from Division II West Florida, set school records in passing and touchdowns, while Steve Krajewski fits a similar pro-style category. NC State transfer Micah Leon and true freshman Jack Zergiotis are also in the mix.
In that area of the game, UConn’s offensive line was slightly lacking last year. They ranked 92nd in adjusted sack rate among FBS schools and gave up 29 sacks overall, two numbers they need to improve on if they want to provide an environment for the quarterback to grow.
Ryan Van Demark, the big left tackle, will anchor that pass protection scheme, with super-senior Matt Peart powering the run-blocking side of the line, the overall leader of the unit. Having started all 36 games in his last three years as a Husky, Peart will get a chance to lead the offense as a whole, a unit undergoing a huge amount of change outside of the big men.
“To do what he’s done and see him continue to grow and develop as a leader, it’s very impressive,” Edsall said on the right tackle.
Cam DeGeorge and Nino Leone round out the returners, with the latter potentially making the move to center after presumed starter Stanley Hubbard III went down with an undisclosed injury.
“We got four out of five coming back, and some of our backups from last year might step into starting roles,” Giufre said. “Matt Peart, Nino Leone, Cam DeGeorge, Ryan Van Demark are taking onus as older guys, trying to help the younger guys.”
Tabbed to replace Leone at right guard in the spring was Christian Haynes, a swiss army knife of a redshirt freshman who has been impressing in the weight room this summer, according to Giufre.
The offensive line’s cohesion could be the key to building on the modest success of last year’s offense, helping a brand-new quarterback and receiving corps adjust.