Marcus Ball inching toward full health as ASU football season approaches

Video by Evan Webeck | Sports Reporter

Marcus Ball intercepted Mike Bercovici at ASU football practice on Tuesday. That, however, wasn’t the story so much as it was the fact that the Ball was on the field and out of the no-contact jersey.

The redshirt freshman has battled injuries ever since he stepped on campus, but he is finally making progress as the 2014 season is approaching. Ball saw his first real action at Camp Tontozona, where he played with the first-team defense at Satuday’s scrimmage. He was wearing a no-contact jersey but ignored it for the most part, making tackles all over the field.

Now, back in Tempe, Ball played with the second-team defense with no apparent limitations. He did, however, sit out some positional drills. When it came to 11-on-11s, though, he was seemingly going full speed.

Ball confirmed that he has been completely cleared by the medical staff and feels 100 percent, himself.

“(I’m) glad to be out of the green (no-contact jersey),” Ball said. “I always used to joke with Coach Graham, I’d say, ‘Green means go,’ but green is obviously no contact. …

“I’m officially cleared, did some hitting … everything is great. … I’m just in this journey to a national championship for a long run.”

Although Ball had been taking first-team snaps at Camp Tontozona, it’s not a forgone conclusion that he will start opposite redshirt senior safety Damarious Randall.

“(Ball) is getting in shape, getting the rust knocked off, and he’s got to compete to play first,” coach Todd Graham said. “He’s not going to just walk up and be starting.”

On Tuesday, it was redshirt freshman James Johnson playing with the first-team, instead of Ball. With Ball on the field, it gives the team flexibility in its formations. Ball said he’s been splitting reps and the free and bandit safety positions. For “the unit inside the unit,” as they call themselves, it’s just about helping the team win.

“Everybody feels like we have to play for each other,” Ball said. “Competition isn’t within the unit. We’re trying to be the best DBs in the nation, so whoever may say he’s the best, I’m competing with him.”

Video by Evan Webeck | Sports Reporter
Cameron Smith stepping up

Safety wasn’t the only spot on the depth chart getting shaken up Tuesday. Sophomore Cameron Smith got his first reps opposite redshirt junior Jaelen Strong at wide receiver. Redshirt junior Gary Chambers had previously been getting the first-team snaps there.

Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell likes Smith a lot, but also said Chambers hasn’t been moved down the depth chart. The Sun Devils ran the “12″ personnel package, with two tight ends, so Smith’s speed was utilized, rather than Chambers’ size.

“I like him out there in every set,” Norvell said. “He’s got great speed and athletic ability.”

While Smith may complement Strong well, it’s not just one receiver that responsibility is going to fall to.

“I don’t want to just have three starting receivers,” Norvell said. “I want to have six or seven guys that we can rely on like starters. … This offense is about taking what the defense gives you. We’re going to try to get guys matched up.”

Additional notes:

— Freshman running back Kalen Ballage was, like Ball, out of the green no-contact jersey, although he wasn’t a full participant. He said he’s taken some hits in practice but isn’t 100 percent. Ballage believes he’ll be ready for the Week 1 game against Weber State.

— The first special teams units featured mostly prominent players. On the kickoff coverage, there were at least seven starters — eight if you count starting nickel cornerback junior Kweishi Brown.

 

Reach the reporter at ewebeck@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @EvanWebeck