This is a year of great transition for the Villanova football team, especially on offense. Not since 2007 has there been such little turnover amongst the skill positions. Unlike 2007 though, the players who need to be replaced in these positions are amongst the greatest ever at their respective positions. Players like Matt Szczur, Chris Whitney, Aaron Ball, and Angelo Babbaro do not come along every year, and it's a very distinct possibility that Villanova may never find a player with Szczur's combination of versatility and playmaking ability ever again. Now I'll get this started.
Quarterback: Heading into 2011, the quarterback duties are redshirt freshman Dustin Thomas' to lose. Even though he received a medical hardship waiver last season while dealing with mononucleosis, Thomas still has the distinct advantage of learning first hand from Whitney, the quarterback during the most prosperous three year stretch in school history. From a physical skills standpoint, Thomas blows Whitney out of the water; he has a stronger arm, he's faster on his feet, and he throws a much nicer ball; he does not possess the size or the physical strength of Whitney, but he is probably more developed as a passer than his predecessor was when he was handed over the reigns of the offense. If Dustin is able to keep the starting quarterback position to himself for a full four seasons, he will be the first quarterback since Kirk Schulz from 1986-1989 to hold onto the starting quarterback job throughout his four seasons of eligibility, so it's safe to say that some of Villanova's career records for quarterbacks could be under threat from Dustin if he is able to develop, stay healthy, and most importantly hold on to the starting job.
Behind Dustin Thomas is senior Christian Culicerto, true freshman Chris Polony, and true freshman John Robertson. When Thomas was hurt last season, Culicerto was unoffically-officially the backup to Chris Whitney, but I'm pretty certain that if Whitney got hurt, Villanova would essentially run the wildcat full time with Matt Szczur. My guess is that Culicerto would be take over as quarterback in the case that there was a mid-game injury to Thomas, but that's simply a guess. If there is an injury to Thomas that requires him to miss multiple games, one of the freshmen is likely to start. Based on going to a practice, it's basically a dead heat between Robertson and Polony, but if I had to guess, it would be Robertson who would get the nod since his ability to run the ball brings a dimension to the game (more than 2,000 yards his senior season) that Polony, who is more of a drop back passer simply cannot match.
Running Back: With the losses of Ball and Babbaro, Villanova lost its top two tailbacks from the last three seasons. Ball ended his career as the second leading rusher in school history, and Babbaro's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield was an invaluable skill that will be missed in 2011. The odds on favorite to take over as the feature back role is diminutive senior Lawrence Doss. In spot duty over his three seasons on the Main Line, Doss has averaged 4.5 yards per carry and has scored four touchdowns. Doss also has good hands and is a better than average receiver out of the backfield.
At fullback will be sophomore Ransford Quarrie, one of the most physically imposing collegiate running backs that I have ever seen in person. While Quarrie will see the occasional carry, his main job will be to open holes in the running game.
Doss's primary backup should be redshirt freshman Austin Medley, who was perhaps the best player from the recruiting class of 2010. If something were to happen to Medley, one of the two true freshmen Kevin Monangai and Jamal Abdur-Rahman would likely see a role in the offense, or it's possible that the offense could be retooled slightly with Ransford Quarrie getting increased touches. Ideally, both Monangai and Abdur-Rahman will redshirt and get a chance to learn the offense this season like Ball and Babbaro were able to do during their true freshman seasons.
Wide Receiver: Matt Szczur is a huge loss, but Norman White, if healthy could be the best returning wide receiver in FCS football. White was named first team All-CAA last season after catching 69 balls for 886 yards and 11 scores. At 6-3, 205 lbs, White is a big, physical wide receiver who is a terror in the red zone. A successful season from Norman White is an absolute necessity for this team to do well this season. The other starters in the base offense will be junior Dorian Wells and senior Mikey Reynolds. Wells had a very good season until he ruptured his spleen against Stephen F. Austin, and Reynolds, a five foot six inch ball of fury will finally get an opportunity to have a full time role after three seasons as an understudy.
Sophomore Joe Price figures to be the flanker in four wide receiver packages, and he seems to be a favorite of receiver coach Brian Flinn's based on his thursday twitter tradition of listing #JoePriceFacts. Behind Price will be a menagerie of players including junior Kenny Miles, redshirt freshman Corey Reeder, and possibly (possibly being the operative word) true freshman Clay Horne.
Tight End: Sophomore Brennan Erbeznik's job to lose. Erbeznik is big (six foot six, 240 lbs) and is a good receiver by all accounts. Behind him is a pair of true freshman in Morgan Craig and Earnest Pettway. Based on my observations from practice, Craig will be the second tight end in the two tight end package. Pettway is an undersized developmental prospect who seems to be more of the H-Back/"Move" tight end type.
That's it for this edition of the preview, tomorrow I will be back with