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's defensive line has often been a strength for some of it's best teams, going all the way back to legendary defensive end Howie Long. Last season was no different, with Pat Williams clogging up the middle, the Villanova defensive line was a big strength for the team, and helped them get very stingy against opposing running backs.
The unit took a step forward last season after some struggles the year prior, under the leadership of coach Joe Trainer, who took over the defensive line and special teams role after departing Rhode Island. Replicating last season's success may be a challenge, however, with three of the top six players on the 2014 depth chart graduating.
Losing Pat Williams is likely the biggest impact that the defensive line will see this Fall. Last year, Williams provided a huge body in the middle of the defensive line that could handle multiple gaps and make things easier on his teammates. His understudy, Jordan Hunter, is similarly gone this season, which means that the 'Cats are relying on some new faces to fill in the middle of the line.
Sophomore Ricky Young is the favorite to start at the nose this Fall. At 6-2 and 300-pounds, Young won't be intimidated by anyone's size. He was a standout lineman in high school and spent last season learning the scheme at Villanova. He got into a pair of games last season against Albany and Liberty and will hopefully integrate well into the system this Fall. His back-up is expected to be fellow-sophomore Eric Drains, who is another massive body at 6-4, 305-pounds, and has the tools to develop into an key player himself.
The defensive end position is one where the Wildcats have some depth as well as key returning players. Tanoh Kpassagnon brings a high motor and excellent athleticism to the position. Though he missed eight games last year with an injury, he recorded 12 tackles (5 for loss), 3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in the six games he appeared in. If he remains healthy, Kpassagnon is expected to become a star player this season.
Senior Reggie Paris is going to start at the other defensive end position, and provides the 'Cats with another skilled athlete on the edge. Paris is an experienced player who started all 14 games last season and recorded 42 tackles (4 for loss), four forced fumbles, three sacks, and a fumble recovery. Together with Kpassagnon, they will form a pair of very strong bookends for the 'Cats defensive line.
Adding depth at the ends, will be Mike Williams, Thomas Plonski and Temple-transfer Bryan Osei. Osei appeared in 10 games for the Owls and will compete immediately for playing time at Villanova. Williams had been named the Most Improved player on the defense after Spring practices, and expectations will be high for him entering this season.