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Fourth Down: A look at Villanova Football’s defensive backs

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The Wildcats’ secondary has a ton of experience to go around and opposing teams might have to think twice before going through the air.

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're coming down the homestretch now, with a look at the Wildcats' D-Backs.


Returnees:

#4 Rob Rolle (6-0, 185) Sr.
#2 Rasaan Stewart (5-11, 200) Sr.
#3 Trey Johnson (5-11, 170) Sr.
#1 Malik Reaves (6-0, 200) Sr.
#41 Isaiah Alicea (5-9, 170) Jr.
#38 Chucky Smith (5-11, 170) Jr.
#18 Dage Davis (5-10, 170) So.
#7 Julian Williams (6-3, 195) So.
#17 Nowoola Awopetu (5-11, 195) RS Fr.
#19 Terrell Vassel (5-11, 185) RS Fr.
#21 Korey Stevens (5-9, 155) RS Fr.

Departures:

Jason Ceneus (5-9, 170)
Matt Rushton (5-10, 210)
Shayne Jones (6-0, 210)
Earl Quermorllue (5-11, 185)

Newcomers:

Darryl McDaniel (5-11, 190) -- Washington D.C./St. John's
Jaquan Amos (5-10, 180) -- Philadelphia, Pa./Northeast
Jevon Jones (6-2, 190) -- Syracuse, N.Y./Nottingham
Drew Ehrlich (5-10, 175) -- Annapolis, Md./Gilman School

There has been plenty of pre-season buzz surrounding senior co-captain Rob Rolle, who made the most out of his first season as a full-time starter in 2016-17. Last season, the six-foot safety racked up 63 tackles, a FCS-best seven interceptions, a fumble recovery, and a pair of defensive touchdowns.

For his play last season, he was named first team All-CAA. In his first two seasons at Villanova, Rolle primarily sat behind three-year starter Cameron McCurry. Once McCurry graduated, and he took the reins, Rolle quickly made a name for himself for his ball hawk mentality and the ability to be a game-changer in the Wildcats' secondary. His 100-yard interception return against Towson in Week 3 of the 2016 season--which set a new program record--was his official introduction to 'Nova fans and the rest of the CAA.

Heading into this season, Rolle was tabbed a pre-season All-American, the pre-season CAA Defensive Player of the Year, and on the watch list for the Buck Buchanan Award (FCS Defensive Player of the Year)--lofty expectations for his final year.

While Rolle has been garnering most of the attention, the other Wildcats should not be discounted. There is plenty of continuity and experience to go around in Villanova's secondary, as three other starting D-Backs from last season's strong defensive performance are back as well.

Rasaan Stewart was given a bigger role for the first time in his career, and he was able to be a solid contributor. Stewart has great coverage skills and is an excellent tackler. He doesn't shy away from contact and is a good hitter. He finished with 40 tackles and three interceptions in 2016-17. In his first two seasons, he was primarily a back up and special teams player, but he appeared in almost every game each year.

At cornerback, the Wildcats will have seasoned players Trey Johnson and Malik Reaves.

Johnson has appeared in every single game he was physically able to play in since coming to Villanova. 2016-17 was his second season with starting experience. He is a great coverage back, one with good instincts and technique. Like Stewart, he's a bit underrated in the sense that he might not have gotten accolades for his play yet, but he isn't a player to sleep on. He led the Wildcats in pass breakups last year, and he doesn't make it easy for his opponent.

The other starting cornerback, Reaves, has been a fixture for the 'Cats in each of the last three seasons. Since first arriving at Villanova, the senior D-Back has started every year since. 'Reaves Island' is primed for a great final closing act on the Main Line. While known for his coverage abilities, Reaves is actually a pretty good hitter. Like his teammates, he isn't afraid to lower his shoulder, be physical, and go for a hit. He isn't just a one-trick pony that can only contribute by locking down receivers, he can hit them, too.

With Shayne Jones graduated, redshirt sophomore Julian Williams is slated to be the starter at the third safety slot in the Wildcats' 3-3-5 defense. The young safety brings a nice element of size to the position with his 6-foot-3 frame. Last season, he played in all 13 games, finishing with 22 tackles and a blocked punt.

Also keep an eye out for Dage Davis. He got to play in a few games last year, but he did a lot of work this offseason to better himself. Davis was named the Most Improved Defensive Player in spring camp. He is likely to see some more time in the secondary rotation.

The Wildcats welcome four freshmen--Darryl McDaniel, Jaquan Amos, Jevon Jones, and walk-on Drew Ehrlich.

They have the potential to be solid contributors down the line, but a crowded secondary will force them to wait their turn. For now, a veteran-laden defensive backfield will likely be at the forefront of what should still be a strong Villanova defense. Whether or not the unit as a whole musters the same production as last year remains to be seen, but it's safe to say it won't be easy scoring on this defense or moving the ball through the Wildcats' No Fly Zone.