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Patriots acquire Sopoaga to bolster depleted run defence

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The Canadian Press
10/30/2013 6:40:03 PM
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Isaac Sopoaga celebrated his 32nd birthday nearly two months ago.

The massive defensive tackle feels like he received a belated gift this week when the New England Patriots acquired him from Philadelphia at the trade deadline.

"Today is my daughter's fourth birthday, but I feel like yesterday and today is my birthday," he said Wednesday, a day after the deal. "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."

The proven run stopper, who started seven of the Eagles' first eight games this season, was brought on to bolster the Patriots' depleted defence that's struggled recently against the run.

Sopoaga spent the first eight years of his career with the San Francisco 49ers and played in the Super Bowl earlier this year before being signed by Philadelphia as an unrestricted free agent in March. The 6-foot-2, 330-pounder recorded 10 tackles for the Eagles.

He has started in 87 of 133 career games with 465 tackles, 7 1/2 sacks, one 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 defence 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, place 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, when he registered 10 sacks.

In addition to their veteran leadership, Carter and Sopoaga both will be counted on to shore up a rushing defence that ranks 31st in the league at 130.8 yards per game, ahead of only winless Jacksonville.

Prior to the losses of Wilfork and Kelly, the Patriots were allowing 105 yards rushing per game and had permitted just one touchdown rushing through the first four games. Over their last four, including both losses, they are yielding 156.5 yards rushing — much of it up the middle — and three touchdowns.

The second half of the season appears to be getting brighter, though.

Kelly returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since getting hurt Oct. 6 against Cincinnati, and Sopoaga is eager to get started with the team he was shocked to be traded to.

"When I found out yesterday, I was with the Eagles and then after I had to drive to South Jersey so I could pack my stuff and then get ready," Sopoaga said. "On the highway, even though it was like a 50 (miles per hour) speed limit, us Samoan people, we go double the speed limit.

"I was surprised, and something I've got to live with, I've got to do, I've got to face, and you know, got to win."

Isaac Sopoaga (Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
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