After using four different players at Bandit safety against USC, the Sun Devils' revolving door at the position appears as though it will continue to swing against UCLA this week.
None of the four players the Sun Devils used at Bandit safety against the Trojans appear in line to start, though, as junior Marcus Ball indicated after Thursday's practice he would earn the starting nod this week.
"If I had to describe it in one word, it's opportunity," Ball said of playing Bandit this week. "It's actually two words, a great opportunity. A great opportunity to go out and show that a guy like myself should be on the field. It's a position I feel comfortable at. It's a position I started here at my freshman year. Played safety so it's a position that I'm familiar with and now it's just about fine tuning my skills at that position at just going full force at it. That's just how the game goes."
Ball began the season as Arizona State's starting Spur linebacker, filling in for senior Laiu Moeakiola who was limited through much of fall camp and the early portion of the Sun Devils' schedule with a hamstring injury.
The Sun Devils actually anticipated Ball to hold down the starting spot at Spur, with Moeakiola returning to play Bandit safety, a position that keeps Moeakiola further away from the line of scrimmage and reduces Moeakiola's injury risk. However, in the third quarter of ASU's contest against Texas-San Antonio, head coach Todd Graham replaced Ball with Moeakiola and the Sun Devils' defensive capabilities significantly improved.
Moeakiola is a dynamic Spur linebacker, which is one of ASU's most difficult defensive positions to play. However, when ASU replaced Ball in the lineup and moved Moeakiola from Bandit to Spur, the Sun Devils lost production at another key position.
On Saturday, junior J'Marcus Rhodes earned the start at Bandit safety, while Moeakiola, junior James Johnson and junior Chad Adams all factored into the Sun Devils' defensive rotation at the position. After watching the Sun Devils' struggle at the back end of their defense, Graham approached Ball about playing Bandit safety against UCLA.
"He's done a good job, it's been, Marcus has been a guy we've played a Spur, we've played at Bandit, we've played at different things," Graham said. "I think he's done a really good job. He's a guy that I think, he's one our best 11 guys and we just have to, we've been doing a lot of really good things and we're just trying to find the right mix there when it comes to getting the guys on the field."
Ball began his career as a defensive back, but the 6-foot-2, 223-pounder moved to Spur prior to the season to offset ASU's anticipated adjustment of having Moeakiola play safety.
"At Spur, I like to say you have to take on a different mindset, a different mindset than you would take on at safety," Ball said. "They call you safety for a reason. You got to get it down, you are the last line of defense. At Spur you can be more aggressive and everybody knows that so just some differences are just right there, but it's a good transition. It's been a great week of preparation for myself."
Ball said he's worked at Bandit safety all week during ASU's preparation for UCLA, and the position flip has required an adjustment in his mindset. At Spur, Ball said he was willing to take chances and aim for big hits, but now that he's on the back line of the Sun Devils' defense, he knows he can't afford to miss opportunities.
"As soon as coach gave me the opportunity to play safety this week, I programmed in my head, 'Ok," Ball said. "We go back to this word, safety, safety, safety. I like to take those hard-hitting chances, but playpen back there at safety, you got to change your whole perspective. It's not about all those knockout shots. It's about getting it down."
Through five games, ASU has yet to settle on its defensive rotation, but Ball's return to the defensive backfield gives the Sun Devils the opportunity to keep both Moeakiola and Ball in the lineup at the same time. After the Sun Devils' open field tackling struggles persisted against USC, Ball is excited for the chance to take the field and help his team.
"Right now I'm in the moment and have a great opportunity and my team needs me," Ball said. "My team needs me to go out and be a player so that's what I want to do."