TEMPE, Ariz. -- In the interest of time, we'll just go ahead and name the returning starters on the Arizona State defense, rather than the lengthy list of who is gone.
Only two full-time starters return from a year ago, safety Damarious Randall and linebacker Salamo Fiso. With a loaded offense poised to be the team's strength, the offseason spotlight shines brightly upon the Sun Devils' rebuilding defense.
With no shortage of positions still up for grabs, redshirt freshman Marcus Ball could potentially be a difference maker—at more than one spot.
Ball, a 2013 three-star recruit, was very much in the running to earn a starting job last summer during fall camp before a clavicle injury suffered during the final scrimmage at Camp Tontozona. Despite some hope from both himself and the coaching staff that he could return last fall, he ultimately took the redshirt.
“I wanted to play so bad," said Ball. "We had a great team, a great group of seniors. I really wanted to play for our seniors. They had to tell me to take my helmet off because I was so anxious. But I knew in my heart, and the doctors were saying ‘You can’t play.’ You have to follow the rules. Health comes first."
Ball's recovery has continued into the offseason, and he was a very limited participant during spring practices. While he recovered, players like Jordan Simone, James Johnson and Laiu Moeakiola took valuable reps at spots where Ball would likely have seen time.
Even though the recovery process has been lengthy, Ball understands the need to not come back too quickly.
"First and foremost, I have to get healthy," said Ball. "After I get healthy, I need to get in shape and get the body back. I’m in no rush, because my health is important. I would never want to do something 50 percent."
When he does return to the field full healthy, Ball offers new defensive coordinator Keith Patterson a host of options. The Sun Devil defense is based on an attacking philosophy, and a player with Ball's versatile skillset is a perfect fit.
Ball, now wearing No. 31 atfer sporting No. 10 last season, combines very good size (6-foot-3, 216 pounds) with tremendous athleticism and ball skills. He also realizes the importance of the mental aspects of the game, giving him what he feels is a well-rounded game.
"I have a knack for the ball. When we see the ball, we go get the ball," Ball said. "Those are the types of things I bring to the defense: being vocal, making sure our guys are where they need to be, telling our corners the coverages. Also, something not a lot of people know about, is I love delivering the blow. I have a big body and long arms. It’s being a balanced player but also coming down and giving a big blow."
Early in the offseason, Ball seemed destined to inherit Alden Darby's vacated safety spot next to returning starter Damarious Randall. If you ask Ball, that's where he'd prefer to end up.
“For the betterment of the team, I’d love me and Damarious to be back there playing safety, whatever safety it may be, boundary or field," said Ball. "That’s the one I want to lock down, and I will lock down."
However, his size, speed, and tackling ability could also make him a great fit for the SPUR position, a hybrid linebacker/safety spot. During spring, Moeakiola held down the first-team SPUR position, but his hold on that job is far from a sure thing, with Ball and newcomer Jamal Scott in the mix this August.
While the "where?" remains unanswered, it's nearly a certainty that for the ASU defense to play well in 2014, Ball will need to be a playmaking factor. Rather than feel any pressure, Ball is confident about the season ahead.
"I want to be great. That means extra work and extra time," Ball said. "It’d be awesome to get into the Heisman talk as a freshman safety. I definitely want to be a freshman All-American. I believe that is something that I can do, and I believe that I have the right people in my corner to help me do so.”
While his own goals are lofty, he believes that Sun Devil Nation should be on the lookout for some fun things.
“A lot of excitement. A lot of hard hitting. A lot of picks. A lot of pick sixes," said Ball. "You can expect, from me and my team, that we’ll win.”