Neiron Ball may not have had the rookie season he was hoping for in 2015, but the Raiders linebacker definitely made a positive impression.
Now, as the Raiders get set to hold their first full-roster training camp workouts this weekend, Ball – a fifth-round pick out of Florida – is eager to regain his momentum.
As a rookie, Ball moved into the starting lineup for two games at midseason and made a big impact playing at middle linebacker in passing situations, taking over for veteran Curtis Lofton.
Ball, normally an outside linebacker, showed good range and versatility and gave Oakland an upgrade in particular by providing better coverage on opposing tight ends, a weak spot for the defense the first half of the season. In his two starts he had nine tackles and a sack.
But, in a game against the Chargers in late October, Ball suffered a season-ending knee injury. Fellow rookie Ben Heeney then stepped in to the position and also played well.
Now, with training camp kicking off, Ball is fit again and motivated to pick up where he left off. On Instagram recently, Ball noted that his faith is helping him overcome the setbacks.
“Many obstacles have been placed in my way,” he wrote. “I know the only reason I make it through is because I never stop believing in You.”
Ball could challenge Heeney at middle linebacker, or he could provide depth at outside linebacker. Chances are, though, that defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. will use him at both positions as needed to take advantage of his quickness, nose for the football and pass-coverage skills.
The Raiders defense will get back both Ball and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., a pair of rookies whose seasons were cut short by injury. Norton said last season that both impressed the coaching staff from their first day with the team.
“What they have both done, worked and competed on the practice field, they’ve earned the opportunity, the chance to play,” Norton said when they worked their way into the starting lineup. “When they’ve had that chance, they’ve really shown up.”