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ASU Football: Todd Graham's weekly press conference highlights younger players

Graham is pleased with the progress of the role players and has confidence in his two-deep heading into the Wisconsin game.

Laiu Moeakiola drew compliments from Todd Graham for his play on Thursday.
Laiu Moeakiola drew compliments from Todd Graham for his play on Thursday.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Against Sacramento State, the Sun Devils had the chance to take an extended look at some of their backups on defense and give young players their first tastes of game action.

But in his weekly press conference on Monday, Todd Graham took the opportunity to praise some of his newcomers who didn't see the field on Thursday.

"That freshman class is really quality," Graham said. "You've got Chans (Cox), the Latu boys, Jayme (Otomewo), James (Johnson), Marcus Ball who is getting healthy now."

It's too soon to tell who will redshirt and who will mix into the rotation this year, but Graham has already pegged Viliami and Alani (A.J.) Latu as potential difference makers at the linebacker spot.

"You take the Latu brothers who I think are going to be off the chart, they're just phenomenal," Graham said. "We're still discussing those guys because they can both start on every special team."

The one issue with playing the Latu brothers on special teams is that it could potentially cost them the ability to redshirt. The Sun Devils are so deep at linebacker right now that neither brother has worked his way into the two-deep, although Viliami is close.

You've got him (Carlos Mendoza) and Anthony (Jones) playing that Spur position," Graham said. "You've got Steffon (Martin) and Salamo (Fiso) at the Sam and then you've got Chris (Young) and Grandville (Taylor) at the Will so that's pretty solid depth."

Using redshirts on the Latu brothers makes sense, especially with the production Graham has seen from Salamo Fiso. Fiso is just a redshirt freshman himself, and could start alongside the Latu brothers in the Sun Devil linebacking corps for the next few seasons.

"Salamo is probably the guy that catches my eye more than anybody else at linebacker," Graham said. "As soon as he matures and learns what he's doing and masters what he's doing, he's a very good player. He's going to be a great linebacker for us. I consider him a starter."

Graham has decisions to make at linebacker over the next few weeks, but he also has his hands tied in the secondary. The Sun Devils are hesitant to name Laiu Moeakiola the starting field safety with Marcus Ball expected to return from a shoulder injury. But Moekiola could force the coaches' hands if he continues to play like he did against Sacramento State.

"I think Laiu (Moeakiola) came off his best game," Graham said. "He's a very smart player."

Damarious Randall is also a player who could hear his name called at safety once he returns to full speed. Randall spent much of camp in a green no-contact jersey, but once he returned, he quickly found his name near the top of the depth chart.

"Damarious Randall is another guy who had a phenomenal practice yesterday, very athletic," Graham said.

Right now the Sun Devils have a great problem on their hands. Arizona State started fall camp with about 15-16 players who expected to be a part of the main rotation on defense, but that number has jumped to about 20 with a shortened learning curve for the newcomers.

The next two weeks of practices and games will dictate which newcomers will see the field and which players will get tagged as redshirts.