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2018 Villanova Football Preview: A look at the defensive line

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Lots of potential here.

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

First peek at Villanova’s hard-nosed defense starts with the men in the trenches. The Wildcats had huge voids to fill at the ends, but found out along the way that they have a number of different promising guys up front.

To help count down to the start of the 2018 football season and the Sept. 1 showdown between Villanova and Temple, we will highlight and breakdown each position on the Wildcats’ football roster.

Other Previews: Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide Receivers | Offensive Line


Returnees

#55 Ben Evans (6-1, 255), Sr.
#90 Bryan White (6-1, 290), Sr.
#47 Anthony Malaguti (6-0, 220), RS Jr.
#50 Jafonta Johnson (6-2, 265), RS Jr.
#91 Datrell Reed (6-3, 275), RS Jr.
#40 Jeff Wiley (6-3, 245), Jr.
#97 Aaron Seigle (6-2, 265), Jr.
#78 Peter Fallon (6-3, 275), RS So.
#46 Jared Nelson (6-2, 260), So.
#92 Malik Fisher (6-3, 250), So.
#95 Billy Solms (6-0, 290), So.
#45 Lorenzo Hernandez (6-0, 245), RS Fr.

Departures

Ricky Young (6-2, 315)
Tom Gormley (5-11, 310)

Newcomers

#42 Michael Taylor (6-2, 245) — Rockville Centre, N.Y./Holy Cross
#94 Garrett Zobel (6-2, 290) — Hatfield, Pa./La Salle


After helping Villanova lead the CAA in sacks two seasons ago--as well as hold opponents to a conference-best 29.9 percent third down conversion rate and boast the top scoring defense--the Wildcats entered last season with some uncertainty on the defensive line.

The Wildcats saw a bunch of new faces take a much bigger role in the trenches. Villanova needed to find replacements for multi-year starting defensive ends Bryan Osei and Tanoh Kpassagnon, after they had both graduated. They had been a dependable fixture up front in bookending the D-Line, with Osei starting since he transferred in from Temple, and Kpassagnon being a defensive force in the FCS—one that eventually got drafted into the NFL.

There was some continuation at nose guard, where Bryan White and Ricky Young split time for the last couple of years. Although Young has now graduated, it was a perfect fit since their play was so similar. When one was taking a break or a breather for a few plays, it was like having a twin at defensive tackle. They were both high-motor players that looked to impose themselves with sheer size and strength. They were constantly moving and fighting, even when the play wasn’t headed their way. They clogged the middle with their bulldozing style of play. Even if they weren’t filling up the stat sheet, they made their presence known. Now, it appears that White will have the spot to himself, now that Young is gone.

As for the ends, Villanova saw a number of young players show a great amount of promise last season. With two large voids left behind from Kpassagnon and Osei, it appeared that the Wildcats endured some growing pains along the way. Earlier in the season, it looked like Villanova wasn’t getting that same push up front. The Wildcats weren’t able to pressure opposing quarterbacks that much, as the pass rush didn’t have that same imposing feel. As the season unwinded, the Wildcats got better in that area and it’s likely in part due to growing confidence that came with in-game experience.

Jafonta Johnson impressed in his first season in a starting role. Johnson is penciled in to keep his spot for the season opener, and it’s no surprise. He led the defensive line with 22 total tackles. He also had four tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. On the opposite side is Malik Fisher, a 6-foot-3 and 250-pound defensive end that seems to have tremendous potential and upside. Fisher had a solid season as a true freshman last year. He had 15 tackles, three tackles for loss, three sacks, a pair of forced fumbles, and three recoveries. These guys are primed for a big season at defensive end.

Beyond the starting lineup is a number of other defensive linemen that will surely be in the playing rotation and can hold their own. They might not be starters by name, but they can definitely contribute. Keep an eye out for Aaron Seigle, Datrell Reed, and Peter Fallon.

Seigle garnered a lot of buzz during spring practice as one of the most improved players this offseason. He is a good pass rusher, and he can also stop the run. As for Reed, this might be the season he takes a big step up. He made a few appearances last season, but may get more burn at defensive end this year. Meanwhile, redshirt sophomore Fallon seemed to do well at his new position. He made the switch from offensive to defensive lineman last season, and the transition was smooth. He’s another player that will certainly be in the rotation.

Junior Jeff Wiley is slated to miss an entire season once again. He didn’t play in any games last year due to injury, and unfortunately, this year seems to be the same case.

This season, Villanova brings in two freshmen defensive linemen--Michael Taylor and Garrett Zobel.

Villanova’s tough defense starts up front. With a variety of solid players at this position and the high ceiling for this group, it’ll be interesting to see how the D-Linemen have grown since last season.