STORRS - The old adage about offensive linemen is much like the one about children. Theyâ€™re better seen and not heard.
Well, at least from a broadcasting standpoint.
If the play-by-play man is referring to offensive linemen by name frequently during a game, thatâ€™s usually a bad sign. It certainly was for the UConn football team a season ago.
Having your name called as an O-lineman for the Huskies usually meant you had committed another false start. Or a holding penalty. Or perhaps missed a block much like a matador dodging a charging bull and watched helplessly as a ball carrier was flattened.
For all of the blame, some of it deserved, that was heaped on UConnâ€™s multiple quarterbacks, multiple offensive coordinators, and its singular head coach in 2016 for the disastrous rate of moving the ball and scoring, the real problem with the Husky offense started up front.
UConnâ€™s offensive line was simply not good enough. None who watched the Huskies play, or even those that did the playing, will dispute that.
The good news, the Huskies insist, is things are already better. None of the mistakes made a season ago need be permanent.
â€śItâ€™s correctable. Some of it with fundamentals and techniques, some of it with strength and conditioning, and some of it with scheme,â€ť said the Huskiesâ€™ new offensive line coach, J.B. Grimes said. â€śAll three of those factor in with helping our guys get better.â€ť
Grimes has been a college football assistant for more than 30 years, nearly all of it spent coaching offensive linemen, most recently at Cincinnati and Auburn. About 50 of his former players went on to play in the NFL.
The new coaching staff, led by the returning Randy Edsall, has helped lift the Huskiesâ€™ spirits and their expectations for their offensive line this season.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashleeâ€™s no-huddle, full-speed attack is going to ease the burden on the lineâ€™s shoulders, the coaches say.
â€śThis offense is friendly to an offensive lineman. You have to be physical and you have to do all those kinds of things, but it helps offensive linemen become better players quicker,â€ť Grimes said.
Lashlee, who came to UConn from Auburn, agrees with his counterpart but also says the onus isnâ€™t all on the offensive line when it comes to pass blocking.
â€śWeâ€™ve worked really hard. Coach Grimes has done a good job of pushing those guys to be physical in the run game, and just do their job in the passing game,â€ť Lashlee said. â€śWe canâ€™t sit back there and hold the ball forever. We have to help them and get it out. Itâ€™s a team deal when we throw the football: running backs in pass-pro(tection), quarterbacks getting it out, and wide receivers getting where they need to be.â€ť
Some of the names who were called last season have changed, of course. Andreas Knappe and Richard Levy have departed.
Tommy Hopkins, Matt Peart and Ryan Crozier are back as starters. Redshirt freshman Cam DeGeorge and senior Trey Rutherford have joined the starting five.
The players expect better from themselves this season, and they say the new offense will help.
â€śThere are some advantages. Midway through the drive you can just tell that the defense is really tired. You can have your way with them, kind of,â€ť Crozier said. â€śPlus there should be more explosive plays. Itâ€™s OK to score in, like, one or two plays.â€ť
The offenseâ€™s overall design isnâ€™t all that could help the UConn linemen. The specific plays that are called each week will also be arranged so that they cater to what Peart, Hopkins et al are capable of.
â€śRhett will be able tailor things to what their strengths are,â€ť Edsall said.
There are some pitfalls the Huskies have to avoid with the new system as well, of course.
â€śWeâ€™re going fast so we just have to always remember to communicate,â€ť Crozier said.
The current coaches have been careful not to criticize their predecessorsâ€™ efforts too specifically and theyâ€™ve also tried not to judge the players too much based on past performances alone. To that end, Edsall says he likes what he has seen from his offensive line in the preseason.
â€śI donâ€™t want to get into comparing from last year. I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s right or fair to do,â€ť Edsall said. â€śBut I see a group thatâ€™s working very hard, getting better. Iâ€™ve seen guys get better since weâ€™ve been here.â€ť
Edsall seems to believe offensive line play wonâ€™t be something that holds the Huskies back this season, even if it may have done so in the past.
â€śIn the long run theyâ€™ll be fine. They want to compete, they want to do well,â€ť Edsall said.