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.
Villanova has had a stable of reliable possession receivers in recent years. Coach Brian Flinn makes sure of that -- the Cats' pass-catchers make all of the easy grabs, and often some spectacular ones as well, before fighting for yardage downfield.
It isn't all about the passing game, however. The wide receivers group is also charged with providing a key service in the running game: blocking their DB out to give the running back (or quarterback) a better route to run through in the open field. That requires a very physical type of receiver, but when the group fully commits to that part of the game, the offense opens up and can start to impose its will.
All around, the offense at Villanova relies on the wide receivers and tight ends to create opportunities, by making key blocks, creating mismatches in the middle of the field, and getting open for a big catch.
Kevin Gulyas was something of a special case at Villanova. He came to the Main Line as a preferred walk-on, but everyone knew that he was destined to be a scholarship player after a stellar career at Allentown Central Catholic. He didn't disappoint, proving himself to be a hard-worker, he finally emerged last fall as a potential big-play threat in the passing game, averaging 25.1 yards per catch and nine touchdowns for the Wildcats. The senior receiver can be a fit on either side of the field, or in the slot and will likely be the top target for John Robertson this Fall.
The Wildcats also will look to seniors Mike Burke and Anthony DeCamillo as big targets who can take advantage of height and good hands to create opportunities. Both receivers are known to be excellent route runners with good hands and they will have a height advantage downfield. Burke is coming back from a knee injury which should limit him early on this season, but the 'Cats have good depth at the outside receiver position.
Also in the mix this season is sophomore Lincoln Collins, who offers great height at 6-3, and has shown flashes of athleticism that could make him a scary mismatch for opposing defenses downfield. With Burke likely limited early on, look for freshman Alex Padovani and senior Jacob Gribb to get more time in the rotation -- both of whom offer a good understanding of the offensive scheme.
The graduation of Poppy Livers leaves Villanova with some big shoes to fill in the slot. His understudy last season, Aaron Wells, will step into those shoes -- offering excellent speed and the shifty moves of a former running back. Wells grabbed 16 balls last season and recorded 127 yards behind the unstoppable Livers, and will bring a set of good hands to the middle of the field. Wells is also particularly good on the reverse-handoff, taking off for a 31-yard run against Delaware last season.
His back-up will be sophomore Taurus Phillips, another athlete with good hands and the right combination of shifty moves to battle for yardage over the middle. A touted recruit, he has seen only limited playing time at Villanova so far, but as the understudy this season, expect him to get his chances.
No more Earnest Pettway means that the Wildcats are inevitably looking at a downgrade in wow-factor at tight end. The former-Wildcat took his talents to the Kansas City Chiefs in the offseason.
Now, tight end will be handed over to Purdue-transfer Ryan Morris and ex-offensive tackle Doug Turrell; both of whom saw some action last season when Pettway was out with an injury. Turrell grabbed five catches last season for 58 yards and a touchdowns, and will be a reliable contributor for the 'Cats as both a blocker and a short-yardage receiver. Andy Talley expects Morris to play a much bigger role in 2015, after spending last season becoming accustomed to the Wildcats' scheme.
Both tight ends are capable of being very good blockers for the run-first Wildcats this Fall, and Morris has demonstrated a set of very good hands in practice that will go along with his 6-3, 250-pound frame to make him an ideal target in the red zone.