Defensive report: It’s all about speed



Cailin Brophy

Changes are abundant on the Villanova football team this year, but nowhere will this be more evident than on defense. This Wildcat squad is ready to do some serious damage to its Atlantic 10 opponents while looking to crush the notion that Villanova is primarily an offensive power. In their eyes, change is good and much needed on a team that allowed 27.8 points per game last season and has lost some of its offensive firepower to graduation.

Like many other areas of the squad, the Wildcat defense has experienced key losses. However, an entirely new defensive strategy should help offset these losses.

“I think we have a better defense than last year,” head coach Andy Talley said. “Although we lose Willie [Lewis], Joe [Keating] and Kwesi [Solomon], we have six down linemen that are better overall together, so I think we have more speed.”

At the tackle position, the tandem of Solomon and Lewis will be replaced by juniors Baylen Botts and Mike Tesei. Both Botts, who is making the jump from end to tackle, and Tesei registered a significant number of minutes last year and should offer speed, power and versatility that will come to characterize the new high-octane defense. Tesei, along with the rest of his defensive mates, know they have big shoes to fill but are optimistic.

“We have a good shot this year,” he said. “We lost a lot of guys but a lot of guys are stepping up and filling their spots. The way the defense is now, we’ll be able to blitz more and keep offenses guessing a lot more.”

Villanova will also look for significant contributions from sophomore Jamil Butler, who had a breakout year last season, registering a team-best seven sacks to go along with an impressive 42 tackles. Redshirt freshman Darrell Adams is slated as the starter at the other end position, with emerging sophomore Terence Taylor showing that he possesses the skill and talent to make waves at the position along with Adams and Butler.

Third team All-Atlantic 10 selection Jamison Young will be orchestrating the linebacker unit this season, taking over the leadership role from departed senior Joe Keating. His move from outside to middle linebacker will greatly improve a defense which is looking to beat opponents more with speed than brute strength this season. Furthering that cause will be redshirt freshmen Brian Hulea and Randy Sims, along with Greg Bishop who should figure in primarily as a backup. Young is confident that the linebacker core, although somewhat inexperienced as a unit, can wreak havoc for opposing offenses.

“I got Hulea next to me, he’s hard nosed and he’s ready, and I think we’re looking pretty good,” Young said. “Switching up the defense is going to help us a lot because we’re quicker. Now we can put a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks.”

The Wildcat secondary is one area of the team which managed to escape with minimal losses, returning six letterwinners from last seaso. Senior Gary Johnson, starting at free safety, will look to continue on his strong showing from last season, in which he recorded a conference-best 20 pass breakups to go along with 50 tackles and two interceptions.

“If we can get our man-to-man coverage down and keep our opponents from scoring on big plays you’ll see a lot of pressure and a faster and younger defense,” Johnson said.

The strong safety position will be occupied by sophomore Raymond Ventrone, who will make his return to the Wildcat lineup after missing the final five games of last season with a knee injury. At the corners, ‘Nova will rely upon last season’s part-time starter Clarence Curry and sophomore Jeremy Morgan, two players who have made monumental strides of late.

One of the biggest question marks for the Wildcats will be their kicking game. Chris Birch and Casey Hannon have departed for graduation, leaving coach Talley to rely upon redshirt freshman Adam James to put the ball through the uprights. James will shoulder the load of both punting and place kicking for the ‘Cats this season.

“I’m concerned about the kicking game because we have one guy doing both and he’s a rookie,” Talley said. ” But he has talent, and I think his punting will be adequate.”

There are question marks and there are changes to be sure, but with the strength of a promising offseason under its belt, look for a new and improved defense to take the field for Villanova this season. Combining the right touch of speed, versatility and power, ‘Nova’s defense should compliment an always strong offensive game.

“The more we can work together, the better we’re going to be,” Johnson said. “Our defense was average last year, so we have to come together and play real hard and that will help the offense as well.”