Randy Edsall is in his second tour of duty as UConn head football coach. He’s been head coach at the University of Maryland. He’s been at Syracuse, Boston College, Georgia Tech and spent five years as an NFL assistant coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions.
Point is, he has been around long enough and seen enough of them to know what an NFL player looks like.
When Edsall returned to UConn in 2017 and saw Matt Peart, then a redshirt sophomore, he knew exactly what he was looking at.
“When I came in I saw this guy I said man, he’s got the ability to be an NFL player. I knew he had it in him,” Edsall told me in a phone conversation over the weekend. “It’s one thing to have those physical attributes, but what is the mental makeup, what is the work ethic, what is the character? After being around him I said you know what this young man is going to have a tremendous opportunity and the Good Lord willing if he can stay healthy he could have a very good career in the NFL. He has put himself in that position.
“He listened to us and we told him ‘if you do these things here are the things that can happen for you.’ He listened, he asked questions, he worked his tail off. Now he’s put himself in this position where he has this tremendous opportunity.”
That “tremendous opportunity,” of course, is with the New York Giants, who made the Huskies’ right tackle the 99th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Giants are hoping that the 6-foot-7, 318-pound 22-year-old takes advantage of the opportunity and becomes a long-term fixture on their offensive line.
“He’s athletic and he’s long and we think he has a lot of upside for a young kid,” GM Dave Gettleman said after selecting Peart. “He’s a guy that the coaching staff really wanted to work with.”
“He definitely has a lot of upside. I don’t want to say he is developmental, he is developing,” said coach Joe Judge. “I think we are going to see a lot better football in the future than we’ve seen from him already.”
Judge added that Peart isn’t “tapped out.”
“This guy has got a skill set, he’s still learning. I think we’ve got the right line coach to go ahead and work with him between (offensive line coach) Marc (Colombo) and (sssistant offensive line coach) Ben (Wilkerson),” Judge said. “This guy’s got tremendous upside. His athleticism, his physical build and then just his character and work ethic. You put those things together and these are guys you really want to work with.”
Edsall agreed with that assessment.
“He’s not a guy that’s maxed out. Some of these guys, they’re not going to get any better. To me, Matt Peart is still on the rise and he hasn’t even come close to maxing out where his ability can take him,” Edsall said.
“They [Giants] understood the kind of player that they were going to get and the value that was there when he was available. I think it’s just a great situation for him and what they’re looking for him to do. They’re going to end up reaping the benefits.”
What might that benefit be?
“If Matt can stay healthy I think you can see a 12- to 15-year player in the NFL,” Edsall said.
The Will Beatty comparison
Giants’ fans remember the last UConn offensive tackle the team drafted. A second-round pick in 2009, Will Beatty started 63 games over six years in an injury-plagued career for the Giants. Beatty was recruited by and played for Edsall during the latter’s initial stint as UConn head coach.
“Will was a little more athletic, but [the] same type of guy. Will wasn’t the finished product. I see the same thing out of Matt,” Edsall said. “That’s not an indictment on him. It’s a positive — he just hasn’t played a whole lot of football.
“His body’s got to mature. He’s got to become bigger and stronger and he’ll even be more dominant. The more reps, the more coaching that he gets he’s going to be that much better with his fundamentals and his technique.”
Edsall thinks Peart can be as good or better than Beatty, who played well enough to earn a rich second contract from the Giants before his career plummeted.
“I think physically Matt might be able to hold up longer than what Will did,” Edsall said. “In terms of what they can give to the Giants Matt can do the same thing.”
The right landing spot
The Giants are a team that doesn’t need Peart to step in and play right away. They have veteran Nate Solder and fourth overall pick Andrew Thomas for that. They have a veteran swing tackle in Cam Fleming and a promising young player in Nick Gates who has shown right tackle ability.
In other words, this is the perfect place for Peart to hone his craft.
Edsall said there is “no doubt in my mind” Peart will be a quality NFL starter, most likely at right tackle, in a couple of seasons.
“When I was looking at the situation and seeing what the expectations are for the Giants I think this is the perfect situation for Matt. He goes in there, he learns and he ends up whether it’s the second year or the third year he can become a starter. Shoot, I just think he’s going to be ready to go and he continually will get better,” Edsall said.
“I really think that this is an ideal situation. It’s a great situation for him in terms of the progression of where he is in his career.”
Peart has not played nearly as much football as many of his peers. Born in Jamaica, he moved to the U.S. and settled in the Bronx with his family in 2002. He earned the opportunity to attend The Governor’s Academy prep school in Massachusetts as a high school student, where he played football for the first time. Peart had two seasons of varsity experience, only one an offensive lineman, before accepting his only FBS offer to attend UConn.
“He’s a very steady kid. He’s very business-like. He’s a good teammate. You can have fun with him, you can joke around with him. He’s got a good sense of humor, he’s got a good personality,” Edsall said.
“He’s one of those kids that each year I’ve been with him you can see he gets better. You can see he puts the effort in. He has a mindset that he wants to be as good as he can be. He’s going to go do that.”
Edsall said the fact that Peart, whose ability could have allowed him to transfer to and play for a Power 5 conference program, stayed with the rebuilding Huskies spoke to his character.
When Edsall left UConn after the 2010 season the Huskies had appeared in four straight Bowl games. They have not been in one or had a winning season since. UConn was 3-9 the year before Edsall returned, and the Huskies have gone only 6-30 in the three years he has been back.
“Matt never really flinched. With his ability he very easily could have after his junior year put his name into the portal and transferred somewhere, maybe to a Power 5 program and gone and played there. He didn’t, so that tells me something about the young man’s character, his values,” Edsall said.“You don’t see that a lot in kids nowadays.
“He wanted to be part of the solution, he didn’t want to be part of the problem. … I’ll always be indebted to him. Some people in his situation could have been very, very selfish and said I’m outta here.
“In the long run those are the kind of guys I want on my team.”
Judge likes to speak about adding the right players based on more than just talent.
“There’s a lot of good players out there,” Judge said Saturday evening. “There’s not a lot of right fits and you want to find the right fits to bring into your locker room.”
If Edsall is correct in his assessment of Peart maybe, just maybe, the young man who grew up rooting for the Giants and idolizing Eli Manning can be one of the right fits for this generation of the Giants.