(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
With nine returning starters, the Arizona State defense has as much potential to dominate as any other team in the Pac-12 considering their success toward the end of last season, along with their returners and even some weapons they have yet to reveal.
Two high-value weapons the Sun Devils hope will make a big impact in reaching their goals this season are redshirt senior safety Jordan Simone and redshirt sophomore safety Marcus Ball.
Ball, who began his career at ASU as a 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound safety, was moved to the spur linebacker spot this past season, where Ball’s physicality and athleticism could ideally thrive in the safety-linebacker hybrid role. After an injury-riddled start to his career, Ball looks to make his mark on this confident defensive unit.
“This will be my first full spring practice and I don’t really take note of what happened in the past,” Ball said. “It doesn’t bother me at all, I don’t really care for all the injuries. I’m just ready to come out here and work to better my team.”
Not only is Ball trying to earn his playing time coming off injuries, but his new position is also something he needs to perfect before he can become close to satisfied.
“I started at safety in the beginning of my career,” Ball said. “But by my sophomore year, I was on and off safety, spur, so I really didn’t get a chance to take a lot of note and master the position, and that’s something I look forward to doing right now is not just being good at my position but mastering my position.”
While Ball is trying to establish himself as an impact player, Simone is coming off of his first season after transferring from Washington State following his freshman year, and he sure set the bar high for himself going into his senior campaign.
Simone was second on the team in tackles last season with 74, along with two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. His impressive season earned him all Pac-12 honorable mention honors and helped the ASU secondary record the most interceptions in the Pac-12.
“National Championship. Best defense in the country. Best rushing defense in the country,” Simone said. “That’s the goals that we’ve all established for ourselves, and that’s goals that our coaches have made very clear for us too. So having the coaches be able to establish a goal right off the bat is helpful.”
Ball and Simone both agreed that Saturday wasn’t their best practice, but with Simone overseeing the defense at all times, he notes things that others may not, and he feels that one bad practice isn’t something to hang their heads about.
“Today wasn’t our best day of practice just as far as attitude,” Simone said. “But we’ve got a great demeanor we’ve got nine guys back and just able to pick up where we left off there’s a lot of competition, everybody is flying to the ball, it’s good.”
Competition is something that Ball will likely have to encounter in order to earn time on the field this season, and it will likely be against the teammate that he learned a lot from watching, redshirt junior Laiu Moeakiola, who plays the same position and was fifth on the team in tackles last season.
“I’ve learned a lot through Laiu and still continue to learn a lot through Laiu, him being a senior guy and being a real high-class guy,” Ball said. “So I learn a lot from him but I need to master my position.”
Although the two haven’t spent a whole lot of on-field time together as of yet, Ball looks up to Simone as a leader and sees him as an important emotional leader of this defensive group.
“(Simone) brings intensity, enthusiasm,” Ball said. “I’m no soft guy. I’m a bang-bang guy. That’s what I look for. A lot of guys, a lot of tough guys, you don’t hear the word smile out of their mouth, but that’s what Jordan brings. He brings the smile. He brings that cheer. He brings that enthusiasm. That makes everybody rally up and want to play for each other.”
The respect doesn’t just go one way though, as Simone sees a lot in Ball that can help this team as well.
“Marcus is super athletic, real athletic,” Simone said. “He brings a lot of intensity, he’s a really good leader. So having another leader out there, James (Johnson) and him, there’s a bunch of different guys, but Marcus is real athletic.”
There is no doubt that the ceiling is high this season for those two dynamic athletes, and their development this spring will be something to watch and keep note of as the highly anticipated 2015-2016 season approaches.