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Sunday, April 21
The Indiana Daily Student

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Aaron Casey wants to prove Indiana football has ‘players that ball’ at NFL Combine

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INDIANAPOLIS — As he approached Table B inside Hall J at the Indiana Convention Center, Aaron Casey recognized several familiar faces from his days an hour down the road in Bloomington. 

Casey, who finished his sixth season on Indiana’s football team this past fall, still donned his trademark dreadlocks and vibrant smile — but he wasn’t wearing cream and crimson. 

Instead, the 23-year-old sported a gray full-zip hoodie with two excerpts of white writing. One said “NOBULL,” a sponsoring partner, and the other “LB-05,” his identification number. 

In front of him stood a microphone lined with the NFL logo and a name card plastered with two phrases: “Aaron Casey” and “2024 NFL Scouting Combine.” 

For Casey, the NFL Combine is the next step in a lengthy offseason process all done with hopes of reaching football’s highest level. 

His journey started shortly after Indiana’s season ended Nov. 25, as he voyaged to Fort Myers, Florida, to heal his body and prepare for the events ahead — most notably the East-West Shrine Bowl, one of the premiere pre-NFL Draft all-star showcases. 

Casey posted six tackles, which tied for a game-high, to go along with one tackle for loss. Upon the event’s conclusion, he returned to Fort Myers, where he spent the following three weeks training for the Combine. 

All things considered, Casey’s pre-draft process, while still in its infancy, has been successful. 

“The last three months have been great,” Casey said Wednesday. “The experience at the Shrine Bowl was really cool, getting to know other guys that you don’t really see get to see. Also, being around NFL coaches and scouts was really good, valuable time to see how the process is for the next level. I really enjoyed my time there.” 

Casey was the Hoosiers’ defensive leader last season, both vocally and statistically. He relayed play-calls and signals and posted team-highs with 109 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. 

He led the Big Ten in tackles for loss, clearing the next closest player by four such takedowns. His three forced fumbles were tied for second most in the conference. 

Casey’s priority this winter was to recover after a physically taxing 12-game schedule. He also lowered his body fat and has learned the technical aspect behind the drills he’ll face Thursday. 

The NFL Combine, which takes place in Lucas Oil Stadium, presents an opportunity for Casey to go through athletic tests, such as the 40-yard dash, three-cone drill and vertical jump and on-field performance evaluations via drills illuminating athleticism. 

All but one of the 32 NFL teams — the Los Angeles Rams being the lone exception — are present in Indianapolis, which saw 321 players receive invites. Casey has already met with several, including the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs. 

Casey is the Hoosiers’ lone representative. He’s steadfast on shining a positive light on the program. 

“I want to go here and do the best I can do,” Casey said. “Representing IU as a school [and] team. I want to put on the best to show that we got players there that ball and compete with anybody else.” 

The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Casey said he wants to run a 40-yard dash time in the high-4.5-second range. He’s been running in the low-4.6’s during his training runs in Fort Myers. While it’s a small discrepancy on paper, every hundredth of a second can be crucial for draft stock. 

Casey believes he improved his value this past season by growing as a leader and making more plays in the backfield. He also exceeded his previous career total in forced fumbles (two) in 2023 alone, sparked by watching former Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard and attempting to mimic his focus on getting the ball out. 

Still, there’s room for improvement. Casey cited his play at the point of attack against offensive lineman and in man coverage as two such areas. 

Casey has six years of collegiate experience to point towards on his resume. He’s now hoping to make one more convincing pitch — as much with his personality as skill set. 

“I’m trying to tell them what type of character and man I am on and off the field,” Casey said. “Tell them I'm the type of guy who affects the people around him. Being a linebacker, leading the defense is something that I've grown into and took responsibility in. Also, I’m the type of guy on the field who will give everything he has, the type of guy who plays with instincts and can get after the ball.” 

As Casey navigates through the arduous process, he’s not alone. 

Two former Indiana linebackers — Micah McFadden and Cam Jones — were Combine participants in 2022 and 2023, respectively. Like Casey, Jones was the only Hoosier invited to last year’s event. 

McFadden, now with the New York Giants, was a fifth-round draft pick in 2022. He’s coming off a breakout second season in New York, during which he started all but three games and eclipsed the 100-tackle mark. 

Jones, who started next to Casey in Bloomington two years ago, went undrafted in 2023 but carved a special teams role on the Chiefs’ roster, playing in all 17 regular season games. A chest injury suffered in his playoff debut cost him the remainder of the postseason, but he was still present for Kansas City’s Super Bowl victory. 

Casey talks with Jones every week and McFadden at various times, capitalizing on the knowledge each possesses. 

It’s possible there’s no bigger time in Casey’s football career than now, as he tries to persuade NFL decision makers to add his services — and through it all, he’s relying on the relationships he made in Bloomington. 

“Those guys I know I can hit up whenever I need something, have a question about anything,” Casey said. “They're willing to help me and more. So, those type of guys who paved the way and set a good example for me to just go in and piggyback off of them, see how they do things the right way and make it there for myself.” 

Casey and the rest of the linebackers will compete from 3 - 8 p.m. Thursday inside Lucas Oil Stadium, with coverage coming from NFL Network. 

Follow reporters Matt Press (@MattPress23) and Dalton James (@DaltonMJames) and columnist Daniel Flick (@ByDanielFlick) for updates throughout the Indiana football offseason. 

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