Aaron looking to be a leader on defense

Last Thursday the Sun Devils kicked off their season with a thorough shellacking of UC-Davis in Sun Devil Stadium. One of the key contributors was senior linebacker Oliver Aaron, who helped pace the Sun Devil defense, as they manhandled the Aggies.

For his part, Aaron contributed four tackles and had one sack against the overmatched Aggies, helping set the tone for the Sun Devil defense. Speaking with Aaron Monday though, he feels as if he could have made a stronger showing and hopes to improve.

"Well I should've had like six or seven tackles," lamented Aaron after practice Monday. "But just with being nervous in the first game, overall I'd say it was okay. I know I can play better."

Overall, the Sun Devil defense turned in the kind of performance fans and players have come to expect of this team. Through the first three quarters of last week's contest, the Aggies failed to generate much on offense, and were only able to find the end zone after the defensive regulars came off the field.

"Overall, for the first three and half quarters, we were on lock down," reflected Aaron. "It sort of tapered off at the end, so I'd have to say we had a B+ effort.

"You know, a lot of the younger guys were playing towards the end, and some of them aren't as assignment-sound, so they were just learning."

It was the kind of effort the Devils hope to build on going forward, but one they know they'll have to learn from as the schedule only gets more difficult, starting this Friday with the 21st ranked Missouri Tigers. . Having had three full days now to reflect and watch film, Aaron knows that he and his teammates are capable of still improving.

"As far as the linebacker unit is concerned, we need to get better with our assignments," stated Aaron. "We can't make the same kind of mental mistakes against this type of team (Missouri).

"They're a team where if you make those mistakes, they will hurt you," he continued. "Where as against them (UC-Davis) we could rally to the ball and stone them, so we can't afford to make those mistakes this time."

For the Sun Devil defense, the best preparation for a talented team like Tigers will be competing against their offense. Both teams' quick attacking, spread offenses can be nightmares for some, but good practice tools for themselves. Without giving too much strategy away, Aaron remains confident about his team's approach to Friday.

"We'll attack them the same way we attack our own offense, since they are similar to us," he stated emphatically. "We've just got to have a lot of same thoughts that we use against them. We'll do a lot of the same things that we did in camp."

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Sun Devils though will be trying to contain Missouri's sophomore duel-threat quarterback, James Franklin, who can be as dangerous on the ground as he can be through the air. And while the Sun Devils don't see many running quarterbacks in the pass-happy Pac-12 outside of Oregon, Aaron feels it's a task his defensive teammate's talents are well suited for.

"It's more of an assignment thing, not really a challenge," he said. "Our schemes are designed so that we can stop that duel-threat. It's just about being more locked in and assignment-sound.

"We've got to know who has the quarterback on this play and that play," he added. "It's more of an assignment challenge than anything, not a physical, chase him around type thing. But our defense can run."

Last week Aaron worked primarily with the second team defense, but when the team broke for practice on Monday, he spent the day running with the starters. It's not an uncommon shift for Aaron, or any of the linebackers really, as the unit has been constantly shuffle throughout the offseason, with the exception of junior playmaker Vontaze Burfict. Never knowing when his number is going to be called keeps Aaron on his toes, ready at any given notice to perform.

"I stay mentally prepared just by watching film and knowing what I'm supposed to do," he said. "I don't necessarily mind being shuffled back & forth because I know that come game time I'm going to get just as many reps, if not more, than the guys in front or behind me.

"So it's not a big deal to me, it's about what I can do to work in and better the team."

One of the causes for the shuffling at linebacker is due to the unfortunate season-ending injury to senior Brandon Magee. Magee, who has been lauded as the best of the bunch by some on the staff, was lost to an Achilles injury in the Fall, creating quite the void for his teammates to fill.

"I'm confident that we can overcome it but you can never replace a Brandon Magee," remarked Aaron. "It's not just about his play, it's the little things that he brings; the intensity, encouragement, and things like that.

"As far as us being a team and going out there and executing, I think we'll be fine, but we really do miss him."

For now though, everyone's attention has shifted to the much hyped showdown that looms this Friday. Arizona State has called it a "blackout," encouraging the fans to come out and support the Sun Devils as they host the nationally ranked Tigers in a primetime matchup while also showing off their new black uniforms.

With so much to get distracted by, it would seem easy for the Sun Devils to lose focus. But Aaron says he and his teammates aren't buying into the hype, and remain hopeful to prove the doubters wrong.

"I will say that we're feeling the excitement getting towards Friday," he commented. "But as far as the hype, and us being as good as we can be, we're not really buying into that. It's about one game at a time, executing and making plays, and then we'll go from there."

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