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John DeShazier: Saints safety Marcus Ball steps up in scrimmage

CFL product had interception, sack

Top 10 photos from the Black and Gold Scrimmage on the eighth day of 2014 New Orleans Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon at The Greenbrier on August 2, 2014. Photos by Richard Clark (New Orleans Saints photos)

White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. – Marcus Ball isn't the typical training camp newcomer for the New Orleans Saints.

The 27-year-old safety played two years in the Canadian Football League, for the Toronto Argonauts, and totaled 142 tackles, seven sacks, four interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and five special teams tackles.

He's as adult and as veteran in professional football and life as many of the seasoned Saints who've contributed to regular-season victories and playoff wins.

But Ball hadn't done a whole lot to distinguish himself with the Saints until Saturday's Black and Gold scrimmage at The Greenbrier resort, when he came up with an interception and a sack.

The 6-foot-1, 209-pounder, who played collegiately at Florida State (two years) and Memphis (two years), has begun to show some of what the Saints expected to see when they signed him to a three-year contract in April.

The interception (he possibly would have returned it for a touchdown) displayed his ball skills and speed, and the sack (off a blitz up the middle) showed that coaches believe Ball won't have a problem mixing it up on the interior when called upon.

"I think he was pretty disappointed with how he came out in OTAs," outside linebacker Junior Galette said. "And since Day One in camp he's been stepping up and becoming one of those guys on the back end who's stepping up and making plays. He obviously made the biggest (defensive) play of the day with an interception, possibly a touchdown. He's doing real good and solid for us on the back end.

"The takeaway was the biggest play of the game."

It was for the defense, which has placed a renewed emphasis this offseason on forcing turnovers. The Saints forced 19 turnovers last season, none in the playoffs and two in the final five regular-season games.

It's one of the reasons the franchise signed free agent safety Jairus Byrd (22 career interceptions in five seasons) and is giving an opportunity to Ball. His plays provided balance in the scrimmage for the defense, which admittedly struggled early to get stops against the offense.

"It's always a little bit tough to look at results in a scrimmage; we're not tackling, we're trying to keep guys healthy," offensive tackle Zach Strief said. "It's a little bit different.

"I know it's tough sometimes on defenders slowing down, yet playing fast. I think what's good about it is that we looked pretty sharp. I don't think there were a lot of (missed assignments), (and) guys running around. Ultimately, I think there was some good ball movement and some good stops by the defense. All in all, I thought it was pretty good."

Especially, it was good for Ball, who appears to be catching up to speed.

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