Onyeali returns to fuel defense

The Arizona State Sun Devils have been plagued by injuries, yet week by week they're slowly beginning to return to form with the infusion of returning players as they prepare for the stretch run in the 2011 season. Last Saturday they welcomed back sophomore defensive end Junior Onyeali, which should only make this already formidable Sun Devil defense more intimidating for opponents.

Junior Onyeali, who won Pac-10 freshman of the year last season as he led the Sun Devils in sacks with 6.5, had been out since September 17th when he tore his meniscus in the first play against Illinois.

He made his return to the lineup last week and played sparingly as a backup as he works his way back into the menacing defender Sun Devil fans know him to be. While he may have failed to record a tackle last weekend, his presence was surely felt on the field as the Sun Devils relentlessly attacked the vulnerable Colorado offense.

"You know, I don't think I played too (well)," said Onyeali of his performance. "I was a little rusty, but it was a good thing just to be out there and to go full-speed again."

Onyeali was back at it again on Tuesday, practicing with the second team defense. He showed no signs of being limited mobility-wise, as he harassed the scout team quarterback, Michael Eubank, on a number of plays, exuding an anxiousness to regain his form as the team's top pass-rusher.

"I feel like I'm in game shape, finally, after practicing last week," he mentioned after practice. "But like I said, I was a little rusty Saturday, so I've still got to sort of clean things up a bit this week."

Onyeali assured Sun Devil fans that it won't be long before they can expect to see him return to form, now having a couple weeks and a game under his belt to gauge how his knee will respond to the activity, hinting he may have something up his sleeve for this weekend's game . When asked how his knee felt after the Colorado game, he was quick to dismiss the idea of any lingering effects from being out for over a month.

"Oh it feels good. No problems. None," he said defiantly. "I'm good."

While the talents of Onyeali have surely been missed over the past few weeks, the Sun Devil defense has been on a tear as of late. Not only are they one of the premiere 3rd down defensive teams in the country, they also have helped their cause lately by becoming one of the nation's leaders in forcing turnovers. After only forcing one turnover in the first two games of the season, they've now forced 24 over the past six contests, ranking fourth nationally in that category and fifth in turnover margin.

"I think just working hard out here in practice and trying to make plays in practice," said Onyeali about the contributions to the defense's recent turn-around. "If you can make plays out here in practice, then you can definitely make them in games."

At 6-2 and bowl eligible for the first time in three seasons, the theme amongst the team has now become "finishing," something the quarterback Brock Osweiler touched on at Monday's press conference. For this opportunistic defense, finishing is something that starts in practice and encompasses every detail throughout the game.

"Just starting off right and making sure we stay that way," Onyeali explained. "Sometimes in games, we'll start off great and then (regress) a little towards the end by not paying attention to details or reading our assignments the way we should. We've just got to focus more on those sorts of things and we'll be fine."

The first step towards finishing is this Saturday as the Sun Devils travel to play the UCLA Bruins in Pasadena, seemingly their only real threat in the Pac-12 South division at this point. A win almost guarantees a divisional championship for Arizona State, and a loss is something they'd rather not think about.

"It's going to be a good game," remarked Onyeali. "They know that if they win it, they'll have a chance to win the South, and we can't let that happen. We know it's a big game and we know we've got to go out there and ball out."

Sun Devil Source Top Stories