Ball eager to end the wait and contribute

Marcus Ball was poised to compete for playing time as a freshman. That was until last year’s Saturday scrimmage at Camp Tontozona, when he suffered a clavicle injury and had to sit out the rest of the season to recover. Over the summer, an unrelated medical condition limited his contact in camp. Yet, today the safety appeared closer than ever to perhaps finally putting his ailments behind him.

Tuesday, for the first time since that Saturday in August of last year, Ball was practicing without a green (no-contact) or gold (limited contact) jersey on his back. According to head coach Todd Graham, Ball hasn’t been “officially” cleared for contact, but he and the rest of the coaching staff feel he’s ready.

Just nine days away from Arizona State’s season opener, it’s a little late in fall camp to just now be cleared to fully participate in practice. Perhaps that’s why Ball is second on the depth chart behind James Johnson. Yet, his grasp of the defensive scheme and raw ability have earned Graham’s trust despite all the missed physical reps.

“He’s got to compete to play first, he’s not just going to walk up and be starting,” coach Graham said. “But Marcus is a great communicator and a guy that is a leader even though he’s very young. He’s a guy that has got great ball skills and can make plays. Marcus is a guy that I have tremendous faith and trust in. We have to get him a lot of reps to get him ready.”

Like most injured players, Ball observed from the sidelines during games and practices in 2013, taking uneventful yet crucial mental repetitions. He didn’t mope around; he was tuned into everything head coach Todd Graham was saying to the defensive backs and learning from senior safety Alden Darby. Ball made the most of it.

That effort has him in a position to step up and contribute to a secondary that lost three of its starters from a year ago.

“I’ve definitely taken a lot of mental reps being injured over this year,” Ball said. “But like I said, I have a bit of rust as far as man coverage and that type of stuff. But as far as just our scheme, I’m definitely confident with it and confident in myself.”

If Tuesday’s practice is any indicator, Ball’s physical abilities are seemingly where they need to be, as he jumped a seam route in the 11 on 11 session and intercepted the pass from Mike Bercovici. Yet, according to Ball, there’s still a bit of rust that he needs to shake before Weber State arrives in Tempe.

“I haven’t hit anybody, and haven’t really played since August 16, 2013,” Ball said. “So I’m just trying to get the rust off. We play soon, so I have to get the rust off real soon.

“I’m just anxious to get out there and hit somebody else.”

Ball did say that he feels he’s past the medical issues for now and will be ready by the time game one rolls around next week. Yet, because of the depth at the safety position and the relative ease of the Sun Devils’ first three games this season, he won’t have to rush into anything.

According to Graham, Ball, along with Johnson, Jordan Simone and Damarious Randall are all capable of playing at a high level. It’s that depth at safety as well as the cornerback position that provoked Graham to say this year’s secondary could be better than 2013’s, which had three players earn Pac-12 honors.

Ball has his own ideas as to why this unit could be better.

“I commend the team last year and our safeties last year, I learned a lot from them,” Ball said. “But what’s different about this team as a whole is just the bond we have here. Before you even get to talking about winning a National Championship, it’s about the relationship on the field that really makes a difference. The bond that we have here on the back end especially, we call it a unit inside a unit, it’s just so awesome. And everybody feels that we have to play for each other.

“I don’t think that losing those guys will have any effect; we will be ready to go on this long journey for a National Championship.”

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