With less than a month until preseason football, rookies will begin preseason training camps by the end of July, with veterans following only a few days after. Following the NFL Draft, Arizona State will have three alumni out on the practice fields taking snaps with the pros, but where will they stand once the rosters are cut to 53?
During the 2018 draft, Kalen Ballage was selected in the fourth round by the Miami Dolphins, Christian Sam went in the sixth round to the New England Patriots and Sam Jones went to the Denver Broncos in the sixth round as well.
Of the three former Sun Devils, Kalen Ballage finds himself in the toughest situation. Acquired with the draft pick the Dolphins received from the Philadelphia Eagles for former Pro Bowler Jay Ajayi, he has quite the standards set up for him already. When rookie camps first began in May, the Dolphins coaching staff pictured Ballage contributing more on special teams, rather than his usual spot at running back.
“Where he needs to grow is the NFL game and nickel protections and learning that stuff, because that’s obviously the biggest transition in the NFL… The more exposure he gets, the bigger he’s going to get,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.
Ballage, at 6-2, 237 pounds, is easily the biggest running back on the Dolphins roster. Should he continue to prove his ball handling skills like he did during rookie camps, he is expected to earn the third spot on the roster behind Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake.
Loggains expressed the need for durability when evaluating his backs. “You don’t want to be limited by smaller stature guys that you’ve got to take out on third down… (Kenyan) Drake is a guy that can play all three downs. I think Kalen fits that vision as well.”
As for Christian Sam, his situation in New England is a lot more flexible. Coming off the 2017 season, the Patriots found themselves ranked as one of the worst defenses in the league early in the season. The Patriots defense hasn’t had the stability it used to, so moving into 2018, that’s what the coaching staff is looking to reinstate.
The former AFC champs are essentially rebuilding their linebacker unit around Marquis Flowers and Dont’a Hightower. The other five spots are up for grabs. Although the defensive coaches may lean more towards veterans Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, Christian Sam sizes up nicely to these players and offers young athleticism. His ability to showcase this is going to be the determining factor regarding his contribution to the Patriots linebacker unit.
In Denver, Sam Jones joins a very rocky offensive line. Even though it’s his first season in the NFL, Jones offers experience that the Broncos desperately need on the line. Jones started for three years while at ASU and was voted a team captain during his senior season. However, Jones joins the roster with five other guards, only one of which is a rookie. So his likelihood of taking regular snaps is slim. But with the recent tendencies to shift the offensive line around in Denver, don’t count him out completely.