Player Capsule: Laiu Moeakiola
Weight: 207 pounds
2015 season quick review: In 11 games, Moeakiola had 44 tackles with one sack, one interception, one fumble recovery and five pass breakups. He played much of the season with an injured shoulder that was surgically repaired in December before the team's bowl game.
ASU defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Keith Patterson on Moeakiola: "With Laiu and Salamo (Fiso), they just have a way and a comfort level of communicating on a football field that’s unexplainable and it does make them very effective."
ASU coach Todd Graham on Moeakiola: "One of the things we can't have with replacing that many people on the back end is just lose that experience. Some of the things we're modifying with our coverage, we'll be very similar when the safeties spin down he'll be doing some of the things that he did all year last year. But Laiu is such a smart player, we need experience back there with that group."
SunDevilSource.com analysis (08/2016): A consummate teammate and warrior, Moeakiola has played injured for most of the last two seasons after separating his right shoulder in the backfield on a tackle attempt against at Colorado on Sept. 13, 2014. Since then, he's never been fully healthy but has continued to play at far less than 100 percent for his teammates. He referenced this in ASU's final summer conditioning workout before the start of preseason camp, saying he would go through it all again, including the two surgeries, for his team.
Moeakiola may be coming full circle as his career winds to a close. He played field and Bandit safety as a freshman before moving to Spur and is now likely returning to ASU's backline, but in a role that will see him still playing up closer to the line of scrimmage in some coverages. When healthy, he's at his best attacking plays moving forward, especially shedding or avoiding blockers and making tackles in space, or blitzing into the backfield. The shoulder injury has limited his ability to make plays with extended arms, which was always one of his strengths.
Having to cover athletic wide receivers in the open field has always been the biggest challenge for Moeakiola's game from an athletic standpoint. He manages space well but has to give a wider berth to receivers than is ideal given his range not being that of a coverage safety. In two man coverages that's less of an issue into the boundary. But anything that puts Moeakiola into single high zone looks or forces him into man conflict situations will be a challenge.
At his best, this is an in the box safety who can be extremely disruptive when healthy and properly deployed. He is extremely prepared and knows the scheme like the back of his hand. He has great key read recognition and understands conceptually what opponents are trying to do to ASU to generate mismatches, and communicates as effectively as any player defensively in the Graham era. He's been a glue that has kept the defense together and when he's not been on the field, the Sun Devils have been undone.
(03/2015): No player on the Arizona State defense was more important than Moeakiola last season (in 2014), not only because of his stabilizing impact on the group as a whole but also due to his versatility and overall capability at a position that is extremely demanding. The Spur position is part linebacker, part safety and part cornerback and is utilized in a wide variety of applications from blitzing to covering receivers in space in man free to being relied upon to be stout and physical against the run in the alley and Moeakiola is good to great in each of these areas. He has the size and mobility of a true safety but the power and strength of a linebacker, is aggressive and tenacious around the line of scrimmage and attacking as a pass rusher, but can also run with athletic skill players and cover effectively.
Moeakiola is a quiet leader who has a calming presence on the field and influences players through his workmanlike approach on a daily basis. If he can become more articulate in terms of developing the same ethic and situational knowledge of the game with those underneath him, like Marcus Ball, as well as others along the defense, he can increase his impact. Staying healthy has been an issue as well for Moeakiola, who hurt his hamstring as a freshman and battled the shoulder injury last year, so sustaining through an entire year healthy will also be something to watch moving forward.
Projected depth chart status: As long as he's healthy, Moeakiola will be on the field somewhere. That much is a given. ASU wants to create more stability in its secondary after a dismal 2015 season with its passing defense and sliding Moeakiola to the back level helps it accomplish this, so long as it isn't putting him in unflattering coverage assignments. Playing him on the field side is probably a mistake unless ASU shows significantly different coverages. He's going to be fine at Bandit other than in man coverage on blitzing plays and is still an ideal fit to play underneath in zone or as as pressure player or at Spur.