STORRS - Itâ€™s hard to imagine that one of the UConn football teamâ€™s worst-performing units of 2016 has a player who may very well one day be an NFL prospect.
Thatâ€™s the case with left tackle Matt Peart, however.
The 6-foot-7, 304-pound sophomore has all the tools to play the position effectively for the Huskies and perhaps at next level. UConn coach Randy Edsall says heâ€™s being careful about telling Peart such things, of course.
â€śIâ€™m not going to let him get lazy on himself. Iâ€™m not going to be easy on him,â€ť Edsall said after Thursdayâ€™s practice. â€śHeâ€™s got that ability. Sometimes he needs a little kick in the butt.â€ť
Edsall has seen butts like Peartâ€™s before, and heâ€™s helped them get to the NFL.
â€śIâ€™m going to coach him kind of the way I coached Will Beatty,â€ť Edsall said of the former UConn tackle who recently finished his seventh year with the New York Giants. â€śWill was one of those guys that had that ability. And that was hard. Will was a great kid but to get all the stuff out of him we wanted to, there was a lot of â€¦ but it paid off. It paid off for Will and I want it to pay off for Matt.â€ť
If some coaches only yell and scream at the ones they really love, Peart may be getting some extra love from the Huskiesâ€™ staff in the near future.
â€śI love the kid to death. Great kid, coachable, wants to do all those things,â€ť Edsall said.
The Huskies are coming off a woeful campaign in which one of its biggest issues was poor offensive line play. Those who were part of that line, including the then-redshirt freshman Peart, understand that better than most.
â€śWe were what we were. We all know that. We donâ€™t want to go back to that,â€ť Peart said. â€śItâ€™s not so much pressure, we just want to win.â€ť
Edsall and the rest of the Huskies want that too, of course. The coach sees that as possible, if players such as Peart can step up their games.
Peart certainly has the potential to be great but no one wants to wait for him to get there.
â€śWe want him to be good now,â€ť Edsall said. â€śI want him to have the same sense of urgency I have. He has some urgency but itâ€™s not to the same degree.â€ť
The coaching staff wants Peart to continue to push himself harder. He says heâ€™s trying to do just that.
â€śIâ€™m nowhere near perfect but Iâ€™m trying to get there,â€ť Peart said.
Rhett Lashlee, UConnâ€™s new offensive coordinator, is changing the way the offense runs, while the new line coach, veteran J.B. Grimes, has revamped the way the Huskies block.
Peart says he and his fellow linemen are being challenged mentally and physically this spring. â€śCoach Grimes, he wants specific footwork for each specific play, for each specific position. Itâ€™s much more technical, much more detailed,â€ť Peart said.
UConn hasnâ€™t had to worry about who its specialists would be in nearly four years, but itâ€™s a major question facing Edsall. Kicker Bobby Puyol and punter Justin Wain have exhausted their eligibility, and itâ€™s not clear who will be taking either manâ€™s place.
Edsall said Tuesday neither the punting nor kicking games have been up to par this spring.
â€śWeâ€™re working on that but weâ€™re not as consistent as Iâ€™d like us to be in the punting game,â€ť Edsall said. â€śAnd (Michael) Tarbutt has a quad (injury) so he hasnâ€™t kicked since about the first week.â€ť
Brett Graham, a redshirt freshman from State College, Pennsylvania, is the only punter listed on UConnâ€™s roster.
Tarbutt would seem to be next in line for the placekicking job but Edsall said Will Rishell, a senior from RHAM, has been performing rather well.
â€śThatâ€™s a work in progress. Weâ€™ll see where we are after four more practices and weâ€™ll see if thereâ€™s something we need to do,â€ť Edsall said.
He didnâ€™t specify, though it seems Edsall and his staff are contemplating getting a kicking and/or punting specialist via the junior college ranks or major college transfer pool.
For the second practice in a row, Brandon Bisack quarterbacked the Huskiesâ€™ first team offense. The 6-foot-5 sophomore from Fairfield is, for the moment, ahead of senior Bryant Shirreffs on the depth chart.
So what has Bisack done to earn the right to start at this point?
â€śDoing his job and executing the offense. Thatâ€™s what heâ€™s doing. When heâ€™s in there heâ€™s had productivity,â€ť Edsall said.
Former UConn players Ryan Krug, Brian Markowski and Shane Fogarty, each of whom was part of UConnâ€™s first bowl team, the 2004 Motor City Bowl winners, were on hand for Thursdayâ€™s practice. â€śKrug still scares me,â€ť Edsall joked. â€śHe scared me when he was playing. When he said something, I listened.â€ť â€¦ With linebacker E.J. Levenberry out with a knee injury, UConnâ€™s depth at the position took a hit. â€śChris Britton has stepped in and heâ€™s done a pretty good job,â€ť Edsall said of the junior from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.