Player Capsule: Alani Latu
Position: Devil backer
Weight: 250 pounds
2015 season quick review: As a reserve third-year sophomore, Latu didn't get onto the field much other than on special teams.
SunDevilSource.com analysis (08/16): A year ago Alani (A.J.) Latu was in flux. ASU coaches had planned to move him to defensive end in 2015 and he spent the winter before spring ball getting bigger to execute that plan. Then former high profile junior college signee Davon Durant was dismissed from the program almost as soon as spring football had begun and Latu was asked to move back to Devil. That's easier said than done because the two positions have different physical demands.
Latu worked hard to drop weight and increase his explosiveness last summer in an effort to make the transition to Devil, but it was too much to get done over a few months. But having a full year to do it? That's entirely achievable from where Latu started, and one of the main reasons we've seen him look like a different player on the practice field in preseason camp. He is without question sporting a more streamlined physique now than he has the last year and a half or more, and it's yielding clear results on the field.
A two-point edge pass rusher, Latu is getting off the snap much better now and showing increased limberness along with it. He's not a speed rusher per se, but Latu has a nice combination of power and burst for a 250-pounder. He plays with a physical edge and is increasingly demonstrating more skill refinement and ability to win the battle for hand placement with offensive tackles. In practices he's showing sustainability with his output, which really appeals to coaches.
Devil backer is a position that lends itself to great pass rush athletes who struggle to demonstrate enough well-roundedness to be relied upon on base downs against the run. There's a legitimate question right now about whether several of the team's options at Devil this year will have that capability. But Latu should be able to set an edge and not get run off his anchor by physical teams looking to run at him. He's not as dynamic a pass rusher as others, but the trade off to his completeness as a player makes for an intriguing conundrum.
Projected depth chart status: When sophomore Joseph Wicker is at Devil backer he's going to be a starter. But the Sun Devils may elect to play Wicker at defensive end depending on who the opponent is, and also based on whether its other options at defensive end, specifically sophomore Renell Wren and senior Eric Boateng, are doing well. If there's a possibility the combination of Latu at Devil and Wicker at end is perceived as better against some opponents, that's a lineup we may see. On nickel downs we probably will see redshirt freshman Malik Lawal at the position.