2022 was an important season for Aaron Casey.
He came in off a disappointing junior season, by all accounts. He played in every game, but started just once. His performance never stood out enough to earn a bigger role, as he finished with modest numbers. Micah McFadden and Cam Jones primarily held down IU’s linebacker spots, and Casey rotated in.
With McFadden and James Miller gone this year, Casey’s time finally arrived. IU head coach Tom Allen and defensive coordinator Chad Wilt challenged Casey heading into the offseason, and Allen said the senior attacked that training the right way. Now, Casey is running with that opportunity.
“Aaron Casey (is) a guy last year that probably did not perform as well as some had hoped and contribute the way even that he had hoped,” defensive coordinator Chad Wilt said. “His confidence — since I’ve been here since January just every week, every month, you see his confidence growing.”
Through eight games, Casey has nine tackles for loss, tied for 41st in the country and tied for third in the Big Ten. His 66 total tackles are tied for seventh in the conference. He’s forced two fumbles, tied for third-most in the Big Ten.
And he grades highly on Pro Football Focus, with a 78.2 rating — tied for 26th in the nation among linebackers and fifth in the conference. PFF rates Casey as the best pass-rushing linebacker in the Big Ten, and 20th-best in the country.
He’s been one of Indiana’s best defensive players all season. And he especially stepped up in IU’s last three games, when the Hoosiers have played without Jones.
When Jones was healthy, he played IU’s stinger position, while Casey played the Mike. But after Jones went down, IU shifted Casey to the other linebacker spot while putting Bradley Jennings Jr., and others, at the Mike.
Casey was already having a solid season, but now he had to adjust positions. After the Michigan game — the first game when he played in the other spot — he said it wasn’t a major shift, but there were differences.
“It was just a different mindset,” Casey said. “A few different things in the run fits and a few different things in the coverages, but it wasn’t too different between the linebackers. The blitzes, knowing who to cover, and who you’re working with are different.”
He’s handled it all seamlessly, and he’s becoming more confident with each passing game. Casey had, arguably, his best performance of the season at stinger against Maryland, with a team-high 10 tackles, with two tackles for loss and one sack, and one QB hurry.
This isn’t the first time Casey has changed positions. He played safety in high school, but IU brought him in planning to shift him to linebacker as he grew physically. IU head coach Tom Allen said Casey now has all the athletic attributes he looks for in linebackers, but just needed to develop his confidence after last season.
And stepping in for Jones has only helped that, as it thrust Casey into an even bigger spotlight.
“Cam’s absence, it’s forced him to be more of a leader, to be more of a dominant play-maker, to fill that void of the pure production,” Allen said. “I’m just so proud of him for how he’s responded. Not really surprised. I’ve always believed in the kid.”
As Indiana finishes out its season, Casey will surely be a big factor. He has one year of eligibility — his COVID year — remaining if he chooses to use it. Though he, Jones, McFadden, and Miller all arrived in the same recruiting class, Casey would be the last player remaining from that group. Casey redshirted in 2018 while Jones didn’t.
Wilt has already thought ahead to next year a bit, and how big a role Casey would have on his defense and the team at large. It would be a big one.
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Jones said that of the four linebackers, Casey is actually the most athletic — high praise, considering that Jones, himself, was playing at an All-American level when he got hurt, and McFadden is now in the NFL.
“He’s just never really got his opportunity since he’s been here. And I think he’s making the best of his opportunity now,” Jones said. “Words can’t explain how proud I am of him. He just continues to attack every single day. He shows why he deserves to play in this league, why he deserves to be on the field.”
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