The Sun Devils traveled up to Camp Tontozona as an excited and healthy bunch last week, but one potential starter didn't make it back to Tempe in the condition he left.
On Saturday, true freshman Marcus Ball suffered an apparent right shoulder injury in Arizona State's final Camp Tontozona scrimmage and Todd Graham confirmed that Ball would miss between three to five weeks after Monday's practice.
"Marcus is going to be out, it's probably going to be three to five weeks, something like that," Graham said. "It's just time to get over that, not the surgery part or anything like that and obviously he was starting at free safety."
Ball arrived at Monday's practice with a sling on his right arm and a green no-contact jersey draped over the left side of his chest. His injury is the first significant blow Arizona State has suffered this fall, and Graham thinks Ball could have had an immediate impact to start the season.
"Really, I think Marcus Ball, if he's in there, would be our free safety right now but he's hurt so we have to make some adjustments," Graham said.
So what adjustments did the defensive coaching staff make? In Monday's morning practice, cornerback Robert Nelson shifted over from his spot at field corner and took first team reps at field safety.
Nelson impressed the coaching staff with a strong week at Camp Tontozona, and tweeted on Sunday night that he would see time at safety during practices this week.
"Robert, I thought he had one of the better scrimmages and would have been the starting field corner so we're just taking a look," Graham said. "Obviously we have confidence in Laiu (Moeakiola) that he can do it, we just gotta make sure that we get our best guys on the field."
With Nelson shifting over to safety, transfer Lloyd Carrington is back taking first team reps at Nelson's field corner spot. With so much movement prior to the first game, it's easy to see why Graham is concerned.
"One of the things I don't like, it's kind of like the offensive line, I don't like having different guys in there all the time so I'm trying to use the same four guys next to each other and obviously Laiu really hasn't been around," Graham said.
Though Moeakiola is technically a redshirt freshman, he did see action in two games early on last season. Despite his experience, Graham feels that shifting Nelson over to safety and inserting Carrington at cornerback gives the defense the most talent to work with.
Graham said the coaching staff believes Robert Nelson, Lloyd Carrington, Alden Darby, and Osahon Irabor are "our four best guys," with Ball injured, and he also sees the team speed improving with both Nelson and Carrington on the field.
Regardless, Ball's injury is a major setback for a defensive backfield attempting to replace two starters from last season, and the significance is not lost on Graham. Even though Ball will miss valuable practice time and lose a few games due to injury, a redshirt appears to be out of the question.
"I just think he's a guy that can help us win a championship this year and he's too talented to not be on the field," Graham said.