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Aikens Looks To Be More Than Special

Posted Feb 15, 2016

The 2014 fourth-round pick from Liberty University emerged as core special teams player and wants to start making that kind of impact as a safety, and that will be the focus for him through the offseason.

After making his mark on special teams in the 2015 season, Walt Aikens now has his sights set on doing the exact same thing on defense.

The 2014 fourth-round pick from Liberty University emerged as core special teams player in his second season with a performance so impressive it earned him recognition from analytics and metrics website ProFootballFocus.com. After the Pro Bowl teams were announced, Pro Football Focus came up with its own selections based strictly on performance and Aikens got the nod as one of the two special teams players.

Aikens wants to start making that kind of impact as a safety, and that will be the focus for him through the offseason.

“For me, this offseason I’m just focusing on honing in on my craft,” Aikens said in an interview with The Finsiders. “I’ve got two years under my belt as a safety and special teams player. From the safety standpoint, I’ve learned so much about coverages and just reading the whole defense, reading the whole offense.

“This offseason I’m going to make sure I go back to the basics and make sure my eyes are right, my feet are cleaned up and I come back with a lot more aggression and hopefully you’ll see a totally new safety next year.”

Aikens came into the 2015 season expecting to get additional playing time on defense following a rookie season spent mostly on special teams, but the outlook changed dramatically after returning starter Louis Delmas went down with a season-ending knee injury during the practices with the eventual NFC champion Carolina Panthers in August in South Carolina.

Just like that, Aikens found himself in the starting lineup, the result of his impressive showing on defense during training camp.

But Aikens was replaced in the starting lineup after two games by Michael Thomas and his playing time on defense dwindled.

“It was tough just because things weren’t going how I expected them to,” Aikens said. “They weren’t going my way early on. But I did a lot of talking with Mike T. and Reshad Jones and my coaches and they just kept me positive, kept me amped up and ready to go every week. I took a lot from them because I feel like I’ve grown in this past year and learned a lot as a safety and a special teams player.”

Most of all, Aikens never sulked, which scored big points with former interim head coach Dan Campbell.

The proof came on Sundays when Aikens continued to deliver on special teams as one of the key members of a young but impressive kicking game unit.

“We had a lot of young guys and a rather new team, just putting all the pieces together,” Aikens said. “We saw a lot of positives out of everyone this whole year. We’ve just got to be able capitalize on every opportunity given.”

Aikens ended up starting four games on defense in 2015. The highlight of his season at safety might have come in the game at Philadelphia on Nov. 15 when he started and finished with a season-high six tackles.

From a team standpoint, one of the biggest highlights came at the end in the form of the 10-point victory against the AFC East champion New England Patriots that kept them from clinching home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

“The season didn’t go how we wanted it to, but at the end of the day we came out and we could have laid down, but we decided to fight and came out on top,” Aikens said. “It was a good win. We saw a lot of positive things from this season, things that we can create more momentum off of and keep moving in the right direction.”

For Aikens, that means more of the same on special teams and taking a big step forward on defense.
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