ASU safety Simone keeps disproving doubters

Jordan Simone leads teammates in singing the fight song after ASU's 38-24 victory over Colorado last Saturday.

TEMPE, Ariz. — During Arizona State’s spring practice, safety Jordan Simone seemed to be just a placeholder — a walk-on holding a No. 1 job until someone better came along.

Even in preseason camp, observers doubted Simone would hold off competition, but three games into the season Simone has done that … and then some.

Now with a scholarship and seemingly entrenched as the starter, Simone continues proving his value to ASU’s defense, answering questions about his ability to be an impact player in the Pac-12.

"He’s played really well," said co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ball. "The thing you look for is improvement, and he’s gotten better each week. Hopefully he continues to do that."

Simone, a redshirt junior who was put on scholarship late in the preseason, battled at bandit safety in fall camp with redshirt freshman James Johnson. Redshirt freshman Marcus Ball, once he was cleared to practice, got in the mix as well. Simone ultimately held off both to earn the start in ASU’s season opener. He had three tackles in the game, but Johnson made a strong impression.

Johnston started the next game at New Mexico, splitting first-team snaps with Simone. But it was Simone, with seven tackles, who this time made an impression strong enough to win the starting job the following week. Against Colorado, Simone made a statement.

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With 13 tackles (two for loss), an interception and a forced fumble, Simone was ASU’s defensive MVP by a good margin. It’s hard to imagine he hasn’t locked up the starting job.

"I’m just doing what the coaches ask me to do," Simone said. "I’m just trying to get the ball out or whatever it is on every play. So whatever it takes to help the team I’m going to try to do it."

Simone also made a big fourth-down stop to prevent Colorado from scoring, and his forced fumble led to an ASU touchdown. His interception may have been the most impressive part of his performance, as he covered a ton of ground to chase down a deep ball from Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau.

"When you look at the film, he starts out on the numbers and goes all the way to the other side of the hash," Chris Ball said. "It was just a great play."

Simone’s emergence may come as a surprise to fans and other observers, but not to Ball, who recruited Simone to Washington State as a walk-on in 2011.

"He was our best special teams player at Washington State," Ball said. "So I knew what he could do. I knew what he had in him. It was just if he was going to be athletic enough to get it done. I knew mentally and his passion and his character, he had all the intangibles. It was just wondering if he was going to develop into a defensive back in the Pac-12, and he has."

Simone is also proving to be a spark on ASU’s defense. When he makes a big play, Ball says, the reactions of teammates speak volumes. Players are beginning to thrive off his energy.

"That’s just who I am," Simone said. "I just bring it every day."

ASU linebacker Carlos Mendoza, who suffered a knee injury in camp, says he’ll be 100 percent for next week’s game vs. UCLA.

For the first time in more than a month on Wednesday, redshirt sophomore linebacker Carlos Mendoza practiced without restriction, shedding the green non-contact jersey he’d worn in recent practices.

Mendoza suffered a knee injury, which he said Wednesday was a partial meniscus tear, in ASU’s Aug. 12 practice before the team traveled to Camp Tontozona. He didn’t realize until the next morning he’d suffered any serious damage.

"I thought it was just like a bone bruise or something," Mendoza said. "We didn’t really think too much of it. Then the next morning it kind of swelled up really bad, so that was kind of the indicator that something was torn.

"It was more flipped up rather than torn, so they just had to put it back down and scrape a little off it."

Mendoza underwent a minor procedure and didn’t practice much until last week. He says his knee feels strong, and he expects to play against UCLA next Thursday.

"I’m about 80 percent right now," Mendoza said. "By Sunday when we practice and start actual preparation for UCLA, I’ll be 100 percent for sure."

Mendoza said he still has catching up to do with his footwork and mechanics but is confident his football instincts will get him there. Mendoza worked at second-team will linebacker on Wednesday.

ASU’s defensive line has so far struggled to create much pressure, especially from the defensive tackle positions, one of which has been manned by freshman Tashon Smallwood. Through three games, ASU is tied for 27th nationally with 7.0 tackles for loss per game, though just seven of its 21 total TFLs have come from defensive line positions.

Next week’s game against UCLA might be a chance to build some confidence and start creating better pressure. UCLA’s offensive line has taken heavy criticism this season and ranks second-to-last in the nation (124th out of 125 FBS teams) in tackles for loss allowed per game (10.3). By comparison, ASU’s offensive line is allowing 4.0 tackles for loss per game.

— Spur linebacker Laiu Moeakiola (arm) again practiced in a green non-contact jersey Wednesday while freshman Christian Sam handled first-team duties. Coach Todd Graham said Tuesday he expects Moeakiola to play against UCLA.

— Freshman quarterback Manny Wilkins for the first time donned a gold practice jersey, meaning he cannot be hit in practice. Against UCLA, Wilkins will back up Mike Bercovici, who is starting in place of Taylor Kelly (foot).

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