Summer is almost finished, students new and old alike are coming back to Villanova, and football is almost here. What more is there to love?
Villanova’s coming off of somewhat of a surprise season. After a sub-par 2011 season, many both nationally and locally believed that it would take a while for Villanova to return to its winning ways. Those same people were pleasantly surprised when the Wildcats returned to the playoffs following the emergence of John Robertson, who developed faster than expected and won the Jerry Rice award for best freshman in FCS. Now with a team that returns many starters, Nova football is expected to go far.
Listening to Andy Talley at Media Day on Tuesday, it was clear that he was happy with high expectations. One of the things Talley noted about his team was the high bar that was set for the season ahead. "If you ask all of our players-which we did, we asked what are your goals- they all said we want to win a league championship." As Talley noted, it’s a high goal for a team.
Other expectations focus on the offense. The theme around the offense seems to be "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it." John Robertson ran for almost 1,000 yards last year, and it’s likely going to be the same for this year. Kevin Monangai returns from last year and also ran for over 1,000 yards. Talley gave, perhaps, his highest praise to slot-receiver Jamal Abdur-Rahman, stating that his skill set was "[Brian] Westbrook-like."
Here's Talley on the running game driving the offense.
"The running game for us is what we hang our hat on… you have a running game that has to perform… if we have trouble running the ball, we’re going to have problems scoring points."
While the attack will cleary be run-oriented, there also seemed to be some excitement around the passing game. Abdur-Rahman, coming back from suspension, was unavailable due to a family emergency, but a few players cited him as an impact player. Cameron McCurry, junior defensive back, mostly works in the slot against these kind of players, and he appreciates working against such a good offense.
Speaking of Cameron McCurry, he looks to be getting more responsibility this season. He cited that as an upperclassman, he’s looking to be more of a leader. He’ll also be replacing Ronnie Atkins at the safety position, which is actually a position switch for him. He described himself as a ballhawk, and is excited for this year.
Two of, if not the most important players on defense, are along the defensive line. Rakim Cox was a standout last year, and Andy Talley insists that he will be an NFL prospect. Talley pointed out that nose guards usually don’t get high stats due to double-teams, yet Cox had multiple sacks last year. One of the best parts of media day was hearing Cox talk about his teammate, Antoine Lewis; the two actually live together off campus, but compete on the field.
Unfortunately, even with the incredible amounts of talent that this defensive line has, there’s one glaring issue: run-heavy teams.
When I asked Talley about it, he cited multiple games from last year where the other team had run the ball very well (Richmond, Towson, and Stony Brook), and admitted it was still a concern. Some of the things that Talley is doing to fix that is "putting more guys in the box… may have to come after them with a blitz-run, run stopping." Talley noted that the team’s not that big up front, and that it still concerns him. When I asked Cox about it, he believed that it starts in the weight room, and he had one of his best off-seasons in that regard.
Another defensive question lies in the secondary. As stated before, Ronnie Atkins left, so the safety position will be filled by Cameron McCurry. However, cornerback is still somewhat of a fluid situation.
While Talley stated the two positions are pretty much solidified, it sounded like the cornerback position will be somewhat of a battle between CJ Logan and Shane Harris. Both are junior defensive backs, but Harris played a lot more last year. It seems as of right now it’ll be Harris, based on the extra year of experience he holds, but Logan could push him.
Overall, this is a team with high expectations and the talent to back it up. There’s some questions on defense, especially in the secondary. At the same time, the duo of Lewis and Cox will provide some help in that regard; McCurry’s definitely glad that they’ll be chasing the opposing QB around. On offense, there’s going to be more of the same; mostly running, with some passing mixed in. There may be more passing this year because of Robertson’s development, but they’ll be sticking with what works.
The 2013 Wildcats should be an exciting team to watch.