Player Capsule: Viliami Latu
Position: Defensive Tackle
Weight: 290 pounds
2015 season review: A starter for the Sun Devils at the 1-technique tackle position as a junior, Latu was one of the team's two primary defensive tackles. He finished the season with 14 tackles, an impressive seven of which were for a loss including 3.5 sacks.
2014 season review: Recruited as a linebacker, Latu steadily gained size and moved up, playing as a sophomore extensively as a defensive tackle at around 275 pounds. He was relied upon heavily due to a lack of scholarship bodies with experience inside, and finished the year with 24 tackles, five for loss with two sacks.
Former ASU defensive line coach Jackie Shipp on Latu: "He's never played defensive line (before 2014) and people talk about how hard other positions are. But when you walk down and put your hand down and you have bodies around you, and you're right up to the nose with somebody, and the different techniques you have to learn, and the effort and the strength, and one big pillar [endurance]. Watch his endurance, probably those last three games he averaged well over 70 plays a game and if you watch that fourth quarter of that Duke game he made some plays. Then all of a sudden you saw some of that technique coming along even better and better and he improved greatly."
SunDevilSource.com analysis (06/2016): In 2015 Latu continued to add size and look more the part of a defensive tackle. He's all the way there now. After arriving out of high school in Rancho Cucamonga, California, as a 230 pound inside linebacker, Latu took about three years transitioning into a full sized nose tackle and a pretty respectable one at a well constructed 290 pounds. What's really stood out as he's added those 60 pounds is how his motor has remained unchanged. Latu plays really hard, which is a skill in and of itself. It's enabled him to play very heavy reps without rotation in a lot of games and hold up well through the fourth quarter even 70-80 reps in.
At the nose tackle position there's a lot of value in pocket compression, which makes for a tighter operating area for quarterbacks and forces more mistakes. That's something Latu provides relatively well with his motor and how much force he generates with his power and tempo releasing off the snap off the football. While he isn't especially limber, Latu has the ability to bull rush rather effectively due to aggressive, working feet, and he also uses his arms effectively as a pass rusher from a skill standpoint for someone who isn't more slippery athletically. These things make him a solid middle-tier level Pac-12 defensive tackle, even in an ASU scheme that is all about gap exploitation.
Another good thing about Latu is his lunchpail mentality and overall approach to football. He's consistent not just with his effort in games, but also in a practice setting. He's relatively quiet but leads through example at a position that seems a lot of variability with effort because of the physical demands in terms of conditioning and sheer will power. Latu's a great role model for younger players not just on the field but in the classroom and locker room as a result, even with his softer spoken nature. He's not going to beat guys with dynamic quickness or agility, and though he anchors reasonably well he's not someone who displaces bodies through engagement at a high enough level to be a star player. But he's a valuable asset and not physically or athletically overmatched as a starter in the Pac-12 as he enters his senior year.
(04/2015): One of Latu's best attributes is his motor. He plays very hard with consistency and doesn't lose stamina as much as other defensive tackles tend to. This enabled him to play 70-80 snaps in several games last season, when the Sun Devils simply didn't have a lot of effective depth to allow for a true rotation at the position group. He's also a hard-nosed player who has high expectations for himself, and competes with an intensity of purpose. Though he was undersized last season, Latu more than held his own.
During ASU's winter strength and conditioning program, Latu gained noticeable size and now weighs 291 pounds but is still moving well. He gets off the football quite well, with impressive burst from a stance, and has naturally good pad level. That enables him to get up and under linemen and he's developing rip move that allows him to take advantage of his get off and leverage. As a result, he can collapse the pocket pretty good and his quickness off the ball has to be accounted for.
Projected depth chart status: Latu should start at the 1-technique defensive tackle position for ASU and he has ample experience playing high snaps in that capacity though it would be great if ASU could have enough of a talent rotation to allow him to go 50-60 snaps without much drop off. We'll see if that happens.