UConn's Foley Looks to Redesign the Line.

UConn's Foley Looks to Redesign the Line.

UConn offensive line coach Mike Foley has a good idea what kind of player he wants for the offensive line. The Huskies went the behemoth route last season with Dan Ryan, Lawrence Green and Mike Hicks all tipping the scales over 300 pounds. The Huskies had girth, but when Foley started to break down the season he saw a problem.

The Huskies size didn't translate. They were big, but didn't play like it, especially the right side which had a merry-go round of players with Hicks, Ryan, Green and Alex LaMagdelaine all seeing time.

The Huskies had four starters on the offensive line returning this spring but Foley and the rest of the Huskies coaching staff was interested in so much more. The motto this spring has been simple for UConn -- big is out. Lean, mean and athletic is in.

The Huskies have moved redshirt sophomore Zach Hurd into the starting slot at one guard spot while redshirt freshman reserve Moe Petrus is slotted in the other guard spot. Hurd started practice as a tackle, but his footwork and athleticism is much better than Hicks, who was moved back to his more natural position at tackle. Petrus is a center, but with Keith Gray entrenched, guard is the perfect opportunity to use the 6-foot-2 287 pound Canadian's athleticism.

"We like guards that are pretty athletic," Foley said. "These two guys, we are trying to take a real look at them. They are good size but they are athletic. We want guys who can run and are physical guys."

All you have to do is look at the film of the Huskies' games against Cincinnati, West Virginia and the Meineke Car Care bowl against Wake Forest to see why UConn is looking for more quickness. The Huskies offensive line was dominated by the fast and physical play and the coaching staff is out to rectify that.

In the passing game the line play was even more noticeable. While the wide receiver spot could be much more productive and the quarterback play better, a lot of the failures in the passing game came with a passive and slow to react offensive line.

UConn has five returning linemen who have started a game in their careers – Hicks, Ryan, Gray, LaMagdelaine, Will Beatty (left tackle) and Tre Tonsing (center). But, it looks like the two young players are likely to step in next fall.

"They are young and their attitudes are right," Gray said. "They are young guys and stuff happens so much faster. They aren't ready yet, but we are working every together. We are going to be all right."

Hurd is a 6-foot-7 300 pound linemen from Waterford. He played on special teams last year, but the converted defensive lineman has very good quickness and hands. Hicks is massive at over 330 pounds, but he was unable to move quick enough as a pulling guard in UConn's pro style offense. Hurd can do that.

"Zach has made a big jump from a year ago" Foley said. "He is doing a nice job and has done a real nice job in the weight room. I figured we give him a look at guard."

Petrus is another interesting case. Petrus is the eighth Canadian to play for the Huskies and has impressed with his quickness, athleticism and toughness. He looks to be the heir apparent to soon to be NFL draftee Donald Thomas.

Gray likes what he sees from the young guys.

"For young guys they have good feet and are good and aggressive at the point of attack," Gray said. "They know the plays well. Good hands and good feet, that is a good start."

The Huskies have emphasized speed at every position this spring most noticeably at the linebacker and safety positions.

As Hurd and Petrus attest, even the big guys aren't immune.

Howard ready to make name

The last play Jasper Howard remembers from his freshman season isn't the one he or any UConn fan for that matter, will forget.

Pressed into duty when UConn coach Randy Edsall wanted two punt returners deep against West Virginia, Howard fumbled his only attempt on special teams. That led to one of many Mountaineers touchdowns in a 66-21 rout that still stings today.

That was the last play the true freshman defensive back played in 2007, and this spring he still can taste it.

"That play is still with me," Howard said after a recent practice. "All week long I was saying I was going to make a play. But, I didn't secure the ball."

Howard has had to love with that play for four months, but he is slowly exorcising those demons this spring. The Huskies have an opening at corner back with the graduation for Tyvon Branch and Howard is making his best effort for the job. The 5-foot-9 Miami native is locked in a battle with Robert McLain for the position and is likely be a major key in the secondary in the fall. Howard has spent much of spring practice working with the first team and has the type of speed and agility to become an excellent cover corner.

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