“He likely is faster at this stage than Roman. Harper had great instincts as a (defensive back) pass rusher. (Ball) created a lot of turnovers and made big plays in CFL and could play on (special-teams) coverage units, too.” JOHN MURPHY, Calgary Stampeders assistant GM, on Marcus Ball
With only two safeties under contract and another who’s a restricted free agent, the Saints on Wednesday brought in a player from the Canadian Football League to bolster the depth at the position group.
Marcus Ball, who suited up for the Toronto Argonauts as a linebacker in 2012 and 2013, reached terms on a three-year deal with the Saints on Wednesday, team General Manager Mickey Loomis announced in a statement. Terms were not immediately disclosed.
In his two seasons with Toronto, Ball was credited with 142 tackles, seven sacks, four interceptions, two touchdowns off pick returns and three fumble recoveries while manning a role resembling that of an attacking strong safety such as former Saint Roman Harper, John Murphy, an assistant GM for the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders who resides in Metairie, said via text message on Wednesday.
“He likely is faster at this stage than Roman,” Murphy said about Ball. “Harper had great instincts as a (defensive back) pass rusher. (Ball) created a lot of turnovers and made big plays in CFL and could play on (special-teams) coverage units, too.”
Sixty-nine of Ball’s tackles, four of the sacks, three of the interceptions and one of the TDs occurred in 2013, when Toronto finished 11-7 and was eliminated in the East Division finals. He helped Toronto become CFL champions by winning the Grey Cup in 2012, a high point in a pro career that was almost derailed before it ever got underway.
Ball, a native of Atlanta, began his college career with two seasons at Florida State (2006 and 2007). Poised to stand out in 2008 for then-Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden as a linebacker, Ball was among 61 athletes to be ensnared in an academic fraud scandal that involved players being accused of having tutors take their exams as well as gaining access to test questions, according to a report in The Globe and Mail in Toronto.
Ball surrendered his scholarship, quit the Seminoles and enrolled at Pearl River Community College in Poplarville, Miss., for one season. He then went to the University of Memphis for 2009 and 2010 to wrap up his career in the NCAA. He was listed as a defensive back at Memphis, where he was suspended for “an undisclosed violation of team policy” toward the conclusion of his senior season, media reports stated.
The 6-foot-1, 218-pound Ball failed to find work in football between the time he left Memphis and linked up with Toronto. He told The Globe and Mail ahead of the Grey Cup victory, “During all that, you kind of lose focus, you lose sight of where you think you’re going to be. A couple of goals, a couple of dreams start to fade away and you lose confidence in yourself.
“But I had the right people around me, a great family, a great supporting cast that kept pushing while I was out of it.”
In New Orleans, Ball will join first-stringers Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro as the only safeties under contract. The Saints have tendered a contract offer to restricted free-agent safety Rafael Bush, which gives New Orleans the right to match any deal proposals the player may entertain from other teams.
About a half-hour before the Saints revealed they’d agreed to terms with Ball, he logged on his Twitter account and wrote that it was overwhelming “to get that call” around what would’ve been the 31st birthday of Sean Taylor, an ex-NFL safety who was fatally shot during an invasion of his home in 2007.
“Wow... Nothing but GOD,” Ball tweeted. “This is crazy lol... I’m too Greeked up right now lol.”
On Tuesday, Taylor’s birthday, Ball sent condolences and prayers to the late player’s family via Twitter.
The Saints have brought in a number of prospects from the CFL, including current cornerback Derrius Brooks, former defensive lineman Tom Johnson and ex-practice squad receiver Chris Williams, who signed with Chicago in December. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, a third-round draft selection for New Orleans in 2012, attended the University of Regina in Canada.