One of the few successful former UH Warrior football players, Isaac Sopoaga, is moving east to join the Philadelphia Eagles. After playing nine seasons for the San Fransisco 49ers, the former 4th round pick signed a 3 year $12 million contract ($5 million guaranteed) to hopefully rejuvinate a defense that ranked 15th in total yards per game (343.2 yards per game), 29th in points allowed per game (27.8 points per game) and 23rd in total run defense (126.3 yards per game).
While his career stats are fairly pedestrian on their face (217 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 1 FF), this can be explained based on the fact that he played mainly as the 49ers "3? technique and "5? technique in a 3-4 defense, which doesn't entail a lot of stats. When Jim Harbaugh took over, Sopoaga moved to nose tackle or the "1? technique. His main job was to eat up blockers at the line to allow the Pro Bowl linebackers playing behind him (Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman) to blow up ball carriers in the backfield.
As the nose tackle, he was also responsible for a "dual gap assignment", responsible for both "A" gaps on the line of scrimmage (the gaps between the center and the two guards.) My belief is that he will continue to play this position in Philly's new 3-4 scheme, headed by new Defensive Coordinator Bill Davis, and will be looked at to help be the veteran leader of this defense.
We have never seen Sopoaga play in a typical 4-3 defense, but I've always wondered…what if he did? What if he had more freedom to make plays on the ball carrier on his own, versus always just setting up the linebackers to make most of the plays? My belief is that he could've been a potential Pro Bowl defensive tackle had he been given the opportunity (maybe not Warren Sapp type of numbers, but something along those lines.)
He's proven to be a very good athlete, particularly for a man his size (his versatility put on full display when he lined up several times in the backfield as a fullback last year.) That type of athleticism, combined with his Herculian-like strength, explosion and experience as a 4-3 defensive tackle at the University of Hawaii, could have easily made him an impact 4-3 defensive tackle in the NFL. Oftentimes the difference between being a pro-bowler and a great role player is just that thin.
The most underrated thing about him though? All of the crazy stories about the ways that he trained growing up in Samoa. If you don't know…you'd better ask someone. You don't need a gym when you have the sand and a few coconut trees.