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Third Down: A look at Villanova Football’s defensive linemen

The first glimpse of Villanova’s defense in our 2017 football season preview series starts with the D-Line.

NCAA Football: Villanova at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

We will be dissecting and previewing Villanova's football roster, breaking it down by position as part of our "Four Downs" series. Each week, we will highlight two positions.

Schedule:

First Down: Quarterbacks (Aug. 8) | Running backs (Aug. 10)
Second Down: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends (Aug. 15) | Offensive Linemen (Aug. 17)
Third Down: Defensive Linemen (Aug. 22) | Linebackers (Aug. 24)
Fourth Down: Defensive backs (Aug. 29) | Special Teams (Aug. 31)

It will transition right into Villanova's Sept. 2 season opener against Lehigh. We take our first look at the Wildcat defense, starting things off with the D-Line

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Returnees:

#99 Ricky Young (6-2, 315) Sr.
#55 Ben Evans (6-1, 235) Jr.
#90 Bryan White (6-1, 275) Jr.
#96 Tom Gormley (5-11, 310) So.
#47 Anthony Malaguti (6-0, 220) So.
#97 Aaron Seigle (6-2, 260) So.
#40 Jeff Wiley (6-3, 285) So.
#91 Datrell Reed (6-3, 275) So.
#50 Jafonta Johnson (6-2, 245) So.

Departures:

Tanoh Kpassagnon (6-7, 290) -- Drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs
Bryan Osei (6-1, 255)

Newcomers:

Trajan Anderson (6-0, 240) -- Fredricksburg, Va./Massaponax
Jared Nelson (6-2, 255) -- Glastonbury, Conn./Glastonbury
Billy Solms (6-0, 290) -- Marshall, Va./Woodberry Forest
Lorenzo Fernandez (6-0, 235) -- Cherry Hill, N.J./Cherry Hill East
Malik Fisher (6-3, 225) -- New York, N.Y./Xavier

Last season, Villanova’s stifling defense started up front, with the linemen battling down in the trenches. The D-Line helped Villanova soar to the top of the leaderboards in the CAA, as the Wildcats kept opponents to a conference-best 29.9 percent third down conversion rate and led the league in sacks, as well as scoring defense.

A large amount of production came from defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon, who has since been drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Kpassagnon, last season's CAA Defensive Player of the Year and a first team AP All-America honoree, topped off his career with a conference-best 21.5 tackles for loss and 11.0 sacks. The 6-foot-7, 290 pound Wildcat wreaked havoc on the defensive line, even when faced with double teams and extra added pressure thrown his way.

His departure, as well as the graduation of Bryan Osei--who enjoyed a solid two years at 'Nova after transferring in from Temple--leaves a couple of openings at the ends of the D-Line.

There is continuity, however, in the middle of the line--at the nose guard position. Bryan White and co-captain Ricky Young both saw considerable time as defensive tackle in the 3-3 stack last season, sharing and dominating the number of snaps taken. They are both high-motor, bullish players that try to assert themselves with brute strength. They don't really have finesse moves to swim by blockers, but they are guys that just try to bulldoze right through the middle. What's impressive about them is the way they don't really give up on plays--they're constantly moving, pestering, fighting, and actively getting to the ball even when it seems like their teammates might have it handled. Most of their tackles are assists, as they come in to provide the finishing touches to down the ballcarrier. With another year under their belt, and as two of the more experienced defensive linemen, this season might be a big step forward for the both of them.

As for who might fill in the open slots on the defensive line? Well, there are a few possibilities.

Sophomores Jafonta Johnson and Jeff Wiley both appeared in every game last season as backups. While their playing time was limited behind Kpassagnon and Osei, they both had their best showings during the season finale in the FCS second round playoff game against South Dakota State.

Another sophomore, Aaron Seigle, is also competing for a starting spot. He might not have the same amount of experience as his classmates--playing in just three games last season--but he's looked good so far in the offseason. Seigle is size, strength, and quickness bundled into one and is an excellent pass rusher. He may be a staple on the defensive line as his career unfolds.

Also keep an eye out for Datrell Reed and Anthony Malaguti. Reed and Malaguti appeared in a majority of the games last season, making their rounds in the Wildcat rotation of defensive linemen. They should get to see more snaps on the field, but they might be behind in the depth chart going into the season.

The Wildcats welcome five freshmen to the defensive line--Jared Nelson, Billy Solms, Lorenzo Hernandez, Malik Fisher, and Trajan Anderson.

Anderson (Fredricksburg, Va./Massaponax) is one of the headliners for a defense-heavy recruiting class. A three-star prospect out of Virginia, Anderson picked Villanova over Army, Cornell, New Hampshire, Holy Cross, and a number of other colleges.

He is a game-changer on defense, a tremendous playmaker. While he was recruited as a linebacker, he seems to have been moved to defensive end. It's very possible that he takes a route similar to recent graduate Austin Calitro, who was shifted briefly to the D-Line before returning to his original position at linebacker.

The other four might not have received the same buzz as Anderson coming out of high school, but they aren't slouches. Solms (Marshall, Va./Woodberry Forest) and Nelson (Glastonbury, Conn./Glastonbury) look like solid additions at defensive tackle, both possessing bright futures at a currently crowded position.

Fisher (New York, N.Y./Xavier) and Fernandez (Cherry Hill, N.J./Cherry Hill East) look like they will pan out at the end positions. Fisher is a bit more raw than his classmates but his athleticism makes him such a great prospect for the future. As for Fernandez, his quickness and the way he fires out off the ball is something that grabs your eye right away.

This will be an interesting position to watch going forward. Not only are there a couple of position battles, but it will be also fascinating to see how Villanova responds and replaces a player like Kpassagnon.