Apr 25, 2013, 12:58 PM EDT
Editor’s Note: Over the course of April and early May, CAA Football will check in with local journalists and bloggers covering our 11 schools to get their take on their respective teams’ spring practices and spring games. Today we hear from Brian Ewart of SB Nation’s VU Hoops. For more on the Wildcats’ spring, including recaps, video and photos, visit our CAA Football Spring Ball Central page.
CAAFB: You’ve been following the Wildcats all spring. What were some of your observations and questions heading into the spring?
BE: The offense was very good last year and returns almost all of its key players, but the defense was hit at least a little bit at every position due to graduation. Losing Ronnie Akins and Eric Loper from the secondary is a hit, and losing Marlon Johnson on the defensive line and Devon Bridges at linebacker is pretty notable as well, especially for a defense that was built around run-stopping.
Some of those questions at D-Line and linebacker are starting to get clearer after spring practices, but there are still some questions about how good the Wildcats will be at cornerback.
CAAFB: Unlike many other teams around the league, Nova hasn’t made any changes to its coaching staff this offseason. What kinds of benefits do you think retaining an entire coaching staff offers the team?
BE: Keeping the staff together for the first time in a few offseasons has the obvious benefit of a consistent teaching approach for the team. Players know what is expected of them from season to season because it’s the same coaches expecting it. It also gives the coaches a chance to get better at working together within Villanova’s scheme.
CAAFB: The Wildcats may be in the best position league-wide in terms of the number of players they return. Perhaps their biggest returning star is reigning Jerry Rice Award Winner John Robertson, who will be just a sophomore this season. I’m assuming there’s not much of a battle at quarterback?
BE: If you’ve heard the way that Coach Talley is talking up John Robertson, you would have no doubt that the Rice Award Winner will be the starter at quarterback through the end of the 2015 season. He’s the best fit for what the offensive scheme is built to do and will likely only get better as he gets more reps and experience.
CAAFB: One big loss was WR Norman White, so would you comment on who we might expect to step in to fill that void at wideout and also touch on some of the other position battles?
BE: There doesn’t seem to be one guy who will get most of the action. Joe Price is likely to get a lot of big opportunities because of his experience and general reliability, but guys like Clay Horne and Mike Burke will also provide big targets downfield and Jamal Abdur-Rahman is a potential game-changer out of the slot.
They’re also likely to use the tight end, Earnest Pettway, a fair amount this season, since he can provide a good mismatch against a lot of teams.
This should end up being a run-first team anyway, with Kevin Monangai and a healthy Austin Medley back. Ransford Quarrie and Javon White also each had good springs, so there is more than enough depth in the ground game.
CAAFB: You’ve touched on the run game, so looking across the positions, then, what do you anticipate as some of the Wildcats’ other strengths and weaknesses coming out of the spring?
BE: Villanova is pretty deep and pretty strong on offense. The offensive line returns all of its starters in addition to having Dan Shirey back from a redshirt season. That really should help all around, but perhaps especially with that power running game. The linemen are expecting to all carry really good size and experience into next season.
The weakness is that there really isn’t a superstar outside receiver this fall, and if Robertson were to get injured, the offense would have to re-tool to try and play to Chris Polony’s strengths again midstream.
CAAFB: You spoke to this back in February, but what role do you now see Nova’s small incoming class having on the team?
BE: It could end up being a big advantage. With such a small recruiting class and so many players returning, it means that almost everyone who will play a major role in the fall season was participating in spring practice. That’s not only great in the sense that 90% of the 2013 team has those practices under its belt, but also because they are working together and building chemistry that isn’t likely to be blown up in preseason when a ton of freshmen arrive.
CAAFB: I don’t think it’s any secret that there are very high expectations for the Wildcats this fall given the aforementioned returning corps and what was a somewhat surprising 2012 season. With Nova’s spring practice schedule now behind us, would you say these expectations still hold true?
BE: The biggest question is whether the defense can be strong enough to hold off their CAA opponents. Richmond, Towson and Stony Brook all took advantage of Villanova’s defense in the trenches last season, so the ‘Cats are going to have to find answers to really figure out if they will be able to play with the bigger and more physical teams in the CAA and elsewhere.
That problem could be helped by moving a guy like Antoine Lewis over to defensive end (where he played as a freshman) and slotting a big, wide-body like Pat Williams into the nose tackle position. Additionally, the ‘Cats will be using the very talented Corey Majors and perhaps also Don Cherry at linebacker this fall. Those moves should help them get more physical against the run and get more pressure into the backfield against bigger offensive lines.
As I mentioned, I think the offense can only improve with the deep and experienced offensive line, strong corps of running backs, a sophomore John Robertson at quarterback and the return of Jamal Abdur-Rahman and his big play potential. The scoring potential should be there for the Wildcats, so if the defense can get enough stops to keep them in games, it should be pretty good.
CAAFB: What have you heard from Coach Talley this spring? Can you give us some insight into his take on his team’s spring?
BE: Coach Talley seems pretty excited about this team and what they can do. He likes having veteran players at every position and he was pleasantly surprised by a few players who stepped up this spring. Cameron McCurry was one of those players, and it looks like he will be able to take on a bigger role at safety next season. Quarrie and White were also surprises in the backfield. Mike Burke had a great spring at receiver and should also be in the rotation this season as a sophomore.
Talley believes that the ceiling for his team is to compete for the national championship, and he fully expects them to make another strong run toward the playoffs this fall.
CAAFB: What questions still remain in your mind moving forward?
BE: The defense was hit the hardest by graduation and other losses and they really seemed to struggle against a few teams last season – Richmond, Towson and Stony Brook in particular – who were able to run the ball extremely well against Villanova. While I think some of the questions on defense were answered in spring ball, others — like who will end up playing at the other corner spot – are going to need more time to work out in preseason.
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