TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State safety Marcus Ball practiced Tuesday without restrictions for the first time since injuring his shoulder in a preseason scrimmage just over a year ago, and ASU says he is "close to being cleared" for games.
"We think he’s ready to go," ASU coach Todd Graham said. "He needs to get in shape, he needs to knock the rust off, and he’s got to compete to play. He’s not just going to walk out and be starting."
Though Ball will still have to win a starting safety position from fellow redshirt freshman James Johnson once he is cleared, the general feeling is he is ASU’s next best safety after Damarious Randall.
Since putting himself in position to start before breaking his collarbone during ASU’s Camp Tontozona scrimmage last season, Ball has practiced regularly in a green non-contact jersey, including in the spring as he recovered from offseason surgery on the shoulder. This fall, Ball has practiced in green due to an undisclosed medical issue.
During ASU’s practice at Camp Tontozona on Saturday, Ball ran with the first-team defense. He got more first team reps Monday but started with the second team Tuesday. He said he is working at both the free and bandit safety spots.
"I’m just glad to be back out here," Ball said Tuesday. "I haven’t hit anybody, haven’t really played since August, 2013, so I’m just trying to get the rust off."
How long will it take to shake the rust of a year away from the action?
"We play in nine days, right?" Ball said. "So it’s got to be soon. I can definitely get the rust off before we play."
It didn’t seem likely a week or two ago that Ball would be in contention to start ASU’s opener against lower-division Weber State on Aug. 28. Now it appears very possible. Graham said Monday that Ball and Johnson are co-leaders for the second safety job.
"Marcus is a great communicator, a guy that’s a leader even though he’s very young and a guy that has great ball skills and can make big plays," Graham said. "He’s a guy that I have a lot of faith and trust in. He just hasn’t had a lot of reps, so we need to get him a lot of reps to get him ready."
After missing the first 12 days of fall camp, junior defensive tackle Jaxon Hood rejoined the team last Thursday. On Wednesday, he spoke to the media for the first time. He declined to discuss the reason for his absence but said it was difficult being away from the team for nearly a month.
"It was a personal issue, and I’m just going to leave it at that," Hood said. "I just love my teammates. We’re all so close as a unit. I think this is as close as we’ve ever been as a team. We would really give a leg for each other, so it was hard not seeing everybody every day. I missed my coaches as well."
Hood says he was confident he would return with a place near the top of the depth chart. On his third day back with the team, Hood worked at first-team nose tackle, but he has not secured a starting job.
Hood’s experience — he leads all defensive players with 17 career starts and is the only ASU defensive lineman to have started a game — makes him an invaluable asset on a young, inexperienced defensive line. Hood admits he still has some conditioning to do despite losing 11 pounds since returning, but he’s confident he can contribute right away.
"When the lights come on, I’ll be ready," Hood said. "I came in first day round as a house (but) still quick feet, flat back. That makes it a lot easier. Just being in my third year and having that veteran sense makes it a lot easier."
Hood said 2013 was a humbling season for him as he battled a hamstring injury that cost him his starting job.
"I’m hungrier than ever, I’m starving," Hood said. "I’m ready to go."
Graham opened his post practice comments by complimenting the offense on a good day, but he wasn’t happy with the defense’s effort. Here’s what he had to say:
"I thought we showed just a lot of immaturity today, didn’t practice very well defensively. We’ve got one practice today, and then we’re taking them to Top Golf. You’d think we could come out and practice with a passion. I tell them honestly, I tell everybody: It’s my job to get them to practice. It was just the way it started off — their body language, a little immaturity here and there, and that’s where we’re showing our inexperience. The standard isn’t last year. The standard is different now, and we’re going to have to run to the ball better because you’re lacking that experience and you’ve got to make up for it with great pursuit. I got after ’em pretty good about kind of a lackluster attitude.
"This is the first day that we’ve kind of not met my expectation from an effort standpoint. Too many communication errors and things like that."
— ASU broke out a scout team for the first time Tuesday morning. Among the notables practicing in a scout team jersey were redshirt freshman linebacker Chans Cox, freshman receiver Jalen Harvey and redshirt junior linebacker Eriquel Florence.
— Starting left tackle Jamil Douglas missed his second consecutive practice with an excused absence for family reasons. Evan Goodman worked in his place with the first-team offense.
— Freshman running back Kalen Ballage (back) dressed for practice but remains limited.