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August 4, 2014

Moeakiola earns high praise



Viliami Moeakiola has already put up some impressive numbers this year, just not ones that actually matter to him.

"30-something, I'm not sure," Moeakiola said, when asked if he recalled his best vertical jump recorded in Arizona State's summer strength and conditioning program.

Try 37 inches, better than anyone on the team's defense.

Moeakiola also doesn't know his max clean or squat, both of which are also better than anyone on the defense, at 345 pounds and 519 pounds, respectively.

"I just worry about what's on the field," the 6-foot-0, 213 pound third-year sophomore said. "If that stuff doesn't translate to the field it's pointless."

So far, it seems to be translating in practice quite well, at least if Moeakiola's head coach Todd Graham is to be believed.

"Laiu's been the guy that has stuck out to me more than any kid on our defense," Graham said. "He's just been absolutely phenomenal.

"Just faster, stronger, character smart, disciplined, tough. Doesn't line up wrong, doesn't take false steps, makes plays, and has really improved himself physically, almost to the point where I'm thinking about looking at him at bandit."

Moeakiola is currently atop the depth chart at Spur, a position he was moved to last season after working most of his first two years more removed from the line of scrimmage in the ASU secondary.

The hybrid safety-linebacker Spur position is critical to Graham's aggressive defensive scheme because so much is asked of it. He must frequently blitz, but also be stout against the run to the wide side of the field and capable of sticking with running backs, tight ends and even sometimes wide receivers in coverage.

"It fits our personnel and matches our team well," Moeakiola said. "It gets me around the box and around the play more, but whatever helps my team get us to the next step and that's the Rose Bowl and National Championship."

Last season, the Sun Devils had six players on defense who were named to the first or second-team all-conference squad, all of whom have since departed. Spur however was a weak spot, with senior starter Anthony Jones collecting just 38 tackles on the season with only one sack. It's one position ASU actually could see improved play, especially if Graham is proven to be right.

After battling a torn hamstring as a true freshman that led to a redshirt year in 2012, Moeakiola had 21 tackles last season a primary reserve, though he did earn two starts including one at Spur.

Dumping fast food and getting more committing to strength training has made Moeakiola leaner and stronger, changes he feels even though his weight hasn't changed much.

"It really was a big improvement," Moeakiola said. "I'm just trying to reach my full potential. (Strength) coach [Shawn Griswold] and the rest of them did a great job keeping on me to make sure I did every set the best I could, the best quality. That was just my mentality."

Nelson playing way to defensive regular

What looked to initially be just an experience became much more in recent days. Perhaps the biggest clue came Sunday, when senior De'Marieya Nelson switched practice jerseys, trading in a maroon offensive shirt for a white defensive one.

A day later, his head coach elected to use the word "unblockable" when asked to describe the imapct Nelson has had since moving from his regular 3-back position on offense to the Devil backer spot ASU has been sorely in need of fortifying.

"I think he'll play there and have a package on offense," Graham said of the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder. "He only played like 12 plays a game with him on offense last year, 12-20 plays, we just have to limit his special teams stuff, but I see him being an every down guy on defense."

The move means ASU will have to make do at tight end by committee, with redshirt freshmen Grant Martinez and Kody Kohl likely to see game action and true freshman Brendan Landman also a candidate, as are walk-on junior college transfer Dan Veer and true freshman walk-on T.J. Widner.

Notes

  • Graham said following practice Monday the Sun Devils committed nine penalties, more than any practice since he arrived in Tempe before the 2012 season. Six were offsides penalties committed by a defensive front that is young and inexperienced.

  • ASU worked on a third down package defensively that included sophomore defensive end Viliami Latu moving inside to tackle. Latu has been moved from Devil backer to field end for the start of fall camp.

  • Redshirt freshman safety Marcus Ball was joined in a green no contact jersey by sophomore receiver Cameron Smith, redshirt freshman safety Jayme Otomewo and true freshman cornerback Armand Perry Monday.

  • The Sun Devils worked more with two-tight end formations Monday, with Veer getting second-team reps as a walk on.


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