Over the next 11 days, Gator Country will preview the players that make up the 2013 Florida Gators football team as we inch closer and closer to the season.
Each day we will count down using the player whose jersey number corresponds with how many days there are left until Florida kicks off against Toledo in the Swamp on August 31.
Today we take a look at redshirt junior linebacker Neiron Ball.
Ball was a defensive end at Jackson High School in Georgia, who chose to attend Florida over other offers from schools like Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, Nebraska, Oregon, South Carolina, Stanford and Tennessee among others.
Ball’s career has been a roller coaster of emotion. As a freshman, Ball played in all 13 games, exclusively on special teams. Then, his sophomore season was cut short. Ball was diagnosed with AVM – a condition that causes bleeding in the brain – and required him to undergo surgery to alleviate the condition. Ball missed the entire season and was awarded a medical redshirt.
Ball returned last season, suffered an ankle injury in camp, and was never 100% healthy the rest of the season. He played in 11-of-13 games, including two starts.
Ball is a fast, athletic, smart football player who can play all three-linebacker positions as well as the BUCK. Ball has played all four of those positions this camp but he is currently starting at Will linebacker while the team is looking for a way to fill in for Antonio Morrison.
Ball is best when blitzing and taking on blockers. He has active hands and uses his speed, along with his hands, to get around bigger offensive linemen. He can come down and play up at the line of scrimmage and take on blockers in 1-on-1 situations.
He is a sound tackler, who wraps up and delivers a thud when he hits.
Ball’s biggest adjustment will be moving to Will linebacker. As a defensive end in high school, Ball had to adjust to the move to linebacker when he enrolled at Florida. Playing Sam and BUCK at Florida isn’t that much different than playing defensive end, but playing Will is a whole different ball game.
He will now be asked to diagnose plays as run or pass and will take on more responsibility in the defense, knowing what all 10 players around him are doing rather than just knowing his assignment.
Ball will also be tasked with a lot more coverage responsibilities at Will, something he has not been asked to do very much of at Florida.
What to Expect
Ball will continue to be a valuable special teams player. He is fast, smart and a sound tackler, which makes him a great fit for the unit.
He has shown great versatility this offseason, playing at all three linebacker spots. Couple that with the fact that Ball has played BUCK linebacker, and now you can plug him in pretty much anywhere. Regardless of where he is playing, the staff knows what kind of production they will get out of him.
Ball will find a way to make an impact on the team, even if he doesn’t find a starting role in the defense this season.