In the days leading up to the season opener at Connecticut, we will be previewing all the position groups for this year's Villanova football team. The full schedule can be found at the bottom of this post.
Because of Villanova's unique 3-3-5 defensive setup, they rely on a lot of disguised coverages and blitzes to generate penetration and pressure on the offense. When that pressure doesn't get home, it can leave the defensive secondary a bit exposed.
That happened often last year, as the Wildcats became more and more susceptible to the long-range passing attack as the season wore on. It finally caught up to them when they struggled for stops against Sam Houston State and ultimately lost a shootout. All the starters, minus All-CAA FS Joe Sarnese, are back. Can they reverse the trend in 2015?
Both of last year's starting cornerbacks return in 2015, but at least one starting spot will be up for grabs. Jason Ceneus is a bit undersized a 5'9", but that didn't stop him from leading the CAA with 5 INTs a season ago. He added 35 tackles and 2 fumble recoveries in a breakout sophomore campaign that saw him develop in to one of the top playmakers on the defensive unit.
Opposite Ceneus, there's three-man competition that might go on throughout the season. Malik Reaves and C.J. Logan split time as the starters last season, and both will see a lot of the field this year. The wildcard is Trey Johnson, who played a ton as a true freshman in 2013 before missing all of last season with an injury. If he's back to full health, he may emerge as the starter as the season wears on. Competition and experience like this is a nice bonus for the unit.
True freshman Dage Davis will start as a deep reserve, and players like Rasaan Stewart and Lorenzo Fertitta can provide additional cover in the case of injury.
The Wildcats typically employ three safeties, meaning there's plenty of playing time available and there will be a fair amount of rotation. Cameron McCurry and Matt McCann both return as starters in 2015, while the staff will need to replace All-CAA free safety and captain, Joe Sarnese.
McCurry was fourth on the team in tackles last season (74), and operates as a bit of roamer in the defense, with a knack for making the big play. McCann, playing as the strong safety, is excellent in run support and should be a fixture all season long if he can stay healthy (he missed most of 2013 with a serious injury).
We expect to see Rasaan Stewart starting at free safety to open the season, but Wes Smith has reportedly been working out with the first team as well. With Sarnese out of the way, both Stewart and Smith should be able to step in and contribute. Also watch for Shayne Jones and Rob Rolle (moving over from CB) to see the field often - all three saw a lot of playing time last season.