Kerry Taylor has demonstrated a knack for making some awe-inspiring grabs during his four-year career at Arizona State.
There was the time during a spring practice in 2009 when he burned a defender with a double move and caught an under-thrown pass behind his back, a play that became a mild YouTube sensation.
Then there was a one-handed grab of a ball near the sideline that was headed straight toward athletic director Lisa Love during Tuesday's practice, a recent testament to his skilled hands.
(Love was sure to heap praise upon and thank the senior wide receiver for saving her from the oncoming spiral.)
But it has been Taylor's ability to make the simple catches during games this season by finding open spaces on the field that has him on pace for a career year.
Through three games, the lone senior starter on offense has recorded 13 catches for 180 yards, already about halfway to the career highs (27 receptions, 405 yards) he totaled as a sophomore in 2008.
After a quiet opener against Portland State, Taylor has caught six passes in each of the last two contests, emerging as a go-to target for junior quarterback Steven Threet in ASU's receiver-friendly offensive scheme.
"I'm just focusing on being the best player I can be," Taylor said. "My focus has been to make plays when my number is called, just being reliable."
Taylor said he is happy to be playing in an offense suited to his strengths. With the receivers spread out on nearly every play, Taylor's ability to get off the line of scrimmage quickly has allowed the senior to create space in the open field.
"Kerry has been so consistent," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. "It's fun to see him have the ability to flourish in this kind of offense. This kind of offense fits him perfectly. He's solid, he knows what's going on and he catches the football."
Taylor has been described since his freshman year in 2007 as a great great route runner by Erickson, and with the opportunity to run more of those routes in ASU's new quick-hit spread offense, the local product out of Chandler Hamilton has become a focal point of the offense.
"He runs routes with more precision probably than anybody else," Erickson said.
Taylor's ability to make quick decisions based upon how an opposing defense is set up, Threet said, has resulted in the receiver being able to find spots on the field where he can sit and wait for the ball to be delivered.
"He can really see the defense well and understand what they're trying to do to stop our plays," Threet said. "It's beneficial for a quarterback like myself to have receivers who understand the defense also."
Taylor has rarely been a player to be heard barking at defenders on the field. Despite a sign on a pad above his back that reads "Swag #5," his leadership approach, Taylor said, has largely been based on the way he goes about his business on the field.
But being the only senior starting on offense, Taylor said he has made a concerted effort to show some of his younger teammates the ropes this season.
"I've been here a long time, so I've been through pretty much every situation good and bad," Taylor said. "I can definitely help the guys when it comes to tough situations. I'm the type of guy that likes to motivate the guys. The coaches do enough yelling at guys, so I just take it as a leadership point of bringing guys back up."
Aaron likely to start
Junior Oliver Aaron practiced with the first-team unit at linebacker ahead of junior Shelly Lyons Tuesday and will likely make his first-career start against Oregon, Erickson said.
Aaron tallied a career-high nine tackles against Wisconsin after coming into the game in the second quarter for injured junior Brandon Magee, a performance that warranted a second look by the ASU coaching staff.
"We judge them every week," Erickson said. "He had a really good football game when he came in and played and we judged it, so right now he's probably going to start for us."
Aaron, a Gainesville, Fla., native, is second on the team in tackles (15), trailing only sophomore linebacker Vontaze Burfict (23).
Aaron said he wasn't fazed by the situation when he was thrust into heavy action against the Badgers in hostile Camp Randall Stadium.
"I prepare as a starter so when I got in, I just tried to make the best of my opportunities and show the defense I could play," the linebacker said. "I messed up a lot looking [at the film], but I feel like I played one of the better games that day."
Magee participated fully in practice Tuesday.
Simmons earns first-team reps
Junior Aderious Simmons ran a portion of Tuesday's practice with the first-team offense at right tackle, substituting in and out with junior Brice Schwab. Erickson said Monday that the coaching staff wanted to use the week of preparation to get more looks at Simmons, who continues to improve after missing most of fall camp while awaiting academic clearance.
Mike Marcisz continued to run with the first-team at left guard and will make his second-straight start at that position against Oregon.