DT Sopoaga ready to start over with Patriots
FILE - In this Oct. 20, 2013, file photo, Dallas Cowboys running back Joseph Randle (21) is stopped by Philadelphia Eagles nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga (97) during the first half of an NFL football game in Philadelphia. The New England Patriots acquired Sopoaga from the Eagles Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, along with a sixth-round pick in 2014 for a fifth-rounder next year. The 32-yar-old Sopoaga helps replace Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who is out for the season. (AP Photo/Michael Perez, File)
San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga warms up during practice on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, in New Orleans. The 49ers are scheduled to play the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game on Feb. 3. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Isaac Sopoaga turned 32 years old nearly two months ago.
The massive defensive tackle received a belated birthday gift earlier this week, though.
The New England Patriots on Tuesday acquired Sopoaga in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, adding the veteran just before the trading deadline in an effort to bolster a depleted defense that’s struggled recently against the run.
“Today is my daughter’s fourth birthday, but I feel like yesterday and today is my birthday,” said Sopoaga, a proven run stopper who started seven of the Eagles’ first eight games. “The Patriots, you know, it’s like a dream come true, to be honest. Respect these guys the last 10 years. They won (the Super Bowl) three times. It’s just an awesome feeling.”
Sopoaga spent the first eight years of his career with the San Francisco 49ers before being signed by Philadelphia as an unrestricted free agent in March. The 6-foot-2, 330-pound lineman recorded 10 tackles for the Eagles.
He has started in 87 of 133 career games with 465 tackles, 7 ½ sacks, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
“He’s basically played defensive tackle and nose tackle throughout his career,” Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said. “Strong guy, physical guy.”
Sopoaga sure has some big shoes to fill – as well as some developing gaps.
New England (6-2) has been without starting defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly for the past three weeks. Wilfork, the heart of the defense the last 10 years, was placed on season-ending injured reserve Oct. 3 with a torn right Achilles tendon, and Kelly has been sidelined for the last three games with a knee injury. Middle linebacker and leading tackler Jerod Mayo also was lost for the season, placed on injured reserve two weeks ago with a torn pectoral muscle.
The Patriots are now preparing for the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-5) with a vastly different defensive cast than they started with in training camp.
“It’s great to have all your players and be at full strength. The reality of it is that’s usually not the case. Every team in the league goes through the same thing somewhere along the line,” Belichick said. “All the players that are on the team have a role and they have to be ready when they’re called on to perform that role.
“We have to be able to adjust during the game when those situations occur or during the week or during the year if it’s a long-term thing.”
The Patriots have acclimated to life without their stalwart linemen by leaning heavily on rookies Chris Jones and Joe Vellano. They also signed 34-year-old defensive end Andre Carter last week in the hope the 12-year veteran can rekindle some of the success he experienced in his lone season with the team in 2011. He registered 10 sacks that year.
In addition to their veteran leadership, Carter and Sopoaga both will be counted on to shore up a rushing defense that ranks 31st in the league at 130.8 yards allowed. That’s ahead of only winless Jacksonville.
Prior to the losses of Wilfork and Kelly, the Patriots were allowing 105 yards per game and permitted just one touchdown on the ground through their first four games. Over their last four, including both losses, they are yielding 156.5 yards – much of it up the middle – and have given up three rushing touchdowns.
The second half of the season appears to be getting brighter, though.
∎ In addition to Sopoaga, the Patriots received the Eagles’ sixth-round pick in next year’s draft in exchange for a fifth-round choice.
∎ RB Shane Vereen returned to practice yesterday for the first time since injuring his wrist in the season opener against Buffalo. Vereen was placed on injured reserve with the designation to return, meaning he was ineligible to practice for six weeks and must miss at least eight games. With a bye looming in two weeks, the Patriots could have Vereen back on the field as soon as Week 11.
∎ QB Tom Brady was asked about his Halloween antics while growing up and admitted to throwing eggs at houses. “We egged, we (toilet-papered) houses. We never ghosted,” he said. “That’s a new thing, I guess.”