For Arizona State sophomore Oliver Aaron, it's a catch-22.
Sure, it's nice ASU has a solid six-man rotation at linebacker to anchor the defense and provide some stability. On the other hand, it's too bad he isn't one of the six.
Rather than bide his time, though, Aaron created his own opportunity this weekend. Throughout the season, he and ASU coach Dennis Erickson had half-heartedly discussed a move to safety, but Sunday it became a reality.
"[Erickson] said it was an opportunity to possibly see the field," Aaron said. "So I just want to take whatever opportunities are there for me … I just want to play. That's the most important thing. It's no secret I'm not the biggest for linebacker and I just feel as far as my chances are concerned, this can only help."
Listed at 6-0, 205 pounds, Aaron was originally recruited as a safety but switched to linebacker before the 2008 season. He played in all 12 games last year on special teams, but was sidelined for 2009's initial three contests with an elbow injury. Since returning against Oregon State on Oct. 3, Aaron has resumed his special-teams responsibilities.
Aaron spent Tuesday's practice lined up at the strong safety position, frequently discussing his new role with safeties coach Matt Lubick between plays. Aaron said he thinks he will primarily aid in run support and in zone pass coverage rather than man-to-man.
"It went better than I thought it was going to honestly," Aaron said. "I haven't backpedaled since grade school. I played linebacker and even defensive line in high school, but I'm not that big of a guy so I know that safety is a position that fits me physically if I can get down the technique and everything. There is a lot you have to know mentally, but I think I'm picking it up OK. It felt pretty good."
Citing his team's depth at linebacker and Aaron's youth, Erickson said the decision also provides a boost for his secondary.
Seniors Ryan McFoy and Jarrell Holman have held firm grips on their starting safety jobs this season, but will be gone next year. Aaron will likely join junior Max Tabach on the three-deep at safety, behind sophomore Clint Floyd and redshirt freshman Keelan Johnson.
"[Aaron]'s only a sophomore and there's a lot of guys at linebacker," Erickson said. "What he brings is a physical presence at the position and he can run … We just feel like need to add some depth at safety."
Lucky for Aaron, he will be able to pick the brain of McFoy, who experienced a similar position change. After starting out as a safety, moving to linebacker, then back to safety before this season, McFoy will surely be a source for Aaron's development.
"I think me and Ryan kind of have the same skill sets," Aaron said. "I just was kind of joking with him, here we are in the same situation again or in the same position. I guess we're kind of joined at the hip. Since I've been here it's kind of learn from him or him learning from me. I'll definitely learn a lot from him at safety."
Senior quarterback Danny Sullivan practiced with a brace on his right knee after suffering an injury Saturday at Stanford. Sullivan didn't appear to be hampered by the knee, but freshman Brock Osweiler and sophomore Samson Szakacsy received slightly more reps than usual on Tuesday.
"[Sullivan's] mobility was fine," Erickson said. "You can't even tell he's hurt. We put Brock in there with the ones a little bit to give [Sullivan] a rest and gave Samson a few reps at the end, but [Sullivan] looked good."
Osweiler didn't do much to add fuel to the fire, though, looking rather pedestrian during practice.
The first-team offensive line looked different on Tuesday without senior center Thomas Altieri, who suffered a knee injury against Stanford.
Sophomore Garth Gerhart was the No. 1 center, while senior Brent Good was at right guard and senior Tom Njunge was at right tackle instead of sophomore Matt Hustad. Erickson said he wouldn't totally rule out Altieri, who was in street clothes Tuesday, for Saturday.
Senior wide receiver Kerry Taylor (hamstring) didn't participate in practice and was limited to riding the exercise bike and doing side work. Erickson said he didn't know whether Taylor would be available for Saturday's game against Cal.