Rotation is now the way to go with the offensive line at UConn

Storrs It's been four short seasons since Donald Brown ran wild and straight into the UConn record book.

His 2,086 rushing yards were a single-season record and led to a pair of program firsts - a Big East Offensive Player of the Year Award and a first-round selection in the NFL draft (by the Indianapolis Colts).

And on a weekly basis, Brown went out of his way to thank the five men who played major roles in Brown's success linemen Will Beatty, Keith Gray, Mike Hicks, Zach Hurd and Moe Petrus - who started all 13 games together that season.

Talk about continuity.

Now fast forward to last Thursday, when UConn rotated seven offensive lineman throughout the first three quarters of its 37-0 season-opening win over UMass and one player senior captain Adam Masters played three different positions: right guard, right tackle and left guard.

"That's the world we live in with the offensive line if you want to be realistic about," coach Paul Pasqualoni said Tuesday as the Huskies began preparations for Saturday's non-conference game against North Carolina State at Rentschler Field (noon, SNY). "If you want to be a good player you have to know more than one position.

"You want to always have your best linemen in the game. If you don't coach that way, you're going to end up with your sixth best lineman next to you and the seventh best lineman in the game. From a coaching standpoint, it doesn't make sense."

The coaching staff used 10 offensive linemen overall, including true freshman Tyler Samra.

"That's the biggest issue that's changed," offensive coordinator George DeLeone said. "You used to have five guys that played and you had them playing together, getting them to have that feel for each other, and then you had a backup group that was a true backup group.

"Nowadays, two things have happened. Number one, there's very few offensive linemen. In the NFL, you dress seven. They're hard to draft and there's not that many that you love. In college football, it's even worse. Very few, with the exception of the top teams in the country the Alabamas, the Michigans, the Floridas have 10 offensive linemen, so what you're looking to do is get a five-man man starting group and a three-man backup group that you can rotate a round."

DeLeone said it's allowed the Huskies to develop depth for the present and future - and keep the starters fresh.

"What if somebody gets hurt? You've got to get somebody else ready for the game," he said. "That's the beauty of this system if you can proceed this way. Knock on wood, that's the way we can play on Saturday. We're not wishing for anybody to get hurt, but now at least others have been in the game. We couldn't do that at all last year. Last year we couldn't substitute anybody."

That's why developing players like Samra, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound guard from New Jersey power Dom Bosco Prep, are critical.

"If you have a mindset that you're going to redshirt these freshmen, you have no chance to develop depth in today's day and age," DeLeone said. "That's why we put in Samra on (Thursday). I think that's going to put more pressure on him to pay more attention at game plan meetings to understand that as a freshman, 'I'm going to play,' which in turn is going to accelerate his development.

"I'm interested in what's going to help our team now, Coach P is interested in what's going to help his team now, and if it doesn't work, then we'll redshirt the kid. But for a kid that's close, like Samra was, we want to play them."

c.banning@theday.com

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