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Football: Spring Practice

It has been 4 months and a day since the Wildcats last played an intercollegiate football game, against Delaware on November 19th. This morning the team took its first steps in preparing for the 2012 campaign, taking the field at Villanova Stadium for the first of fifteen practices that will take place between now and the end of April.

All but one starter from the 2011 season returns for Villanova, and one new addition will be joining the Wildcats in practice. Cornerback James Pitts is the lone graduating senior that was in the starting line-up, while safety Marc Mauro enrolled in January after a fall semester at Nassau Community College on Long Island. That makes Spring practice a particularly productive venture for Villanova this year, as the starting line-up will mostly be practicing together from today through preseason practices.

There are freshmen who could push their way into the rotation or even the starting line-up at a few positions, but that won't be settled in Spring. Corey Majors, for example, will have high expectations from the program when he arrives on campus this summer, as will Austin Calitro. Both players could compete at linebacker sooner than later. At least one offensive lineman, Jon Green, has a chance to make waves in preseason, but Coach Andy Talley currently expects that his offensive line will be mostly unchanged from last season.

This Spring, Villanova does have a few questions that they will work toward answering. They will need to replace James Pitts at cornerback — Leighton Dennis was his back-up and therefore a likely favorite to step in as a starter (Craig James probably slides over to cover the opponent's star receiver), but that isn't a guarantee.

Most importantly, however, the Wildcats will be watching closely as John Robertson enters the battle at quarterback. Chris Polony had a rocky start to his career in 2011 against Monmouth University, but looked much better in his return as a starter, leading a blowout win at UMass and a close loss to Delaware two weeks later. The job will be his to lose, but it won't be a foregone conclusion for him to be the starter this season.

"[W]e really feel that Chris Polony is going to come on, and we have another redshirt freshman by the name of John Robertson who was really more highly-touted coming in than Chris," Talley said. "John got in here and was just not really ready, Chris had more maturity and John was really more effervescent, excitable and he needed to settle down."

Robertson may earn himself a few snaps out of the "wildcat" formation even if he doesn't win the starter's job. He was slated to fill that role last season, but managed just one play from scrimmage, being injured against Temple in the opener.

Tertiary to the quarterback competition is the status of Dustin Thomas. We reported in February that Thomas would convert to wide receiver this season; that process begins now.

"We felt that we had pretty-much evaluated Dustin, so we approached him and said, ‘look, how about you go over to wideout, we’ll keep your hand in at quarterback but maybe your best bet is as a wide receiver with us,’" Talley said in February.

Competition at receiver will still be tight for Thomas. Norman White, a potential future pro, returns to the Wildcats after rehabbing from a lisfranc fracture for most of the 2011 season. Jamal Abdur-Rahman returns to the slot and Dorian Wells and Joe Price bring experience back as well. That's not even to mention other underclassmen and freshman imports.

Thomas will still potentially get reps under center in practices and would be available to serve as an emergency option at quarterback during the season. Talley's offense has also often utilized the kind of trick plays that benefit from having a former passer lined up at receiver. One of those trick plays saw Thomas catching a 44-yard pass thrown by receiver Dorian Wells in last season's Mayor's Cup game.

For Villanova, this Spring is about growth and learning to put away the rookie mistakes that their wealth of freshmen starters were apt to make in the 2011 season. They will benefit from the repetitions and experience gained in the fall and a full offseason lifting program will look to return a bigger and stronger offensive line and linebacker corps as well.

"I am excited to get our football team back on the field. We have had a very good off season in regards to lifting and conditioning. I want to see us maintain that intensity level in spring practice," said Talley. "The record didn't show it but we improvement greatly throughout last season. The experience our young players gained last year was invaluable as we move forward. We need to continue that improvement in these 15 practices so we are ready to be a formidable football team in the fall."


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