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Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Sopoaga fills big need for Patriots

By Mike Reiss

When trade possibilities were explored leading into today's 4 p.m. deadline, the prevailing thought was what the Patriots needed most was the 2013 version of Ted Washington.

They got their man in Isaac Sopoaga.

The 32-year-old Sopoaga projects to the same type of role that Washington did in the team's 2003 Super Bowl season: A sturdy presence at the heart of the line of scrimmage whose primary value comes as a run-stuffer.

The Patriots' need for a player like Sopoaga became greater after captain Vince Wilfork was lost to a season-ending Achilles injury on Oct. 29. Wilfork (6-2, 325) has been the team's rock in the middle. Coupled with veteran Tommy Kelly (6-6, 310) having been sidelined with a right knee injury since Oct. 6, the team had lost too much size and power at defensive tackle.

Rookies Joe Vellano (6-2, 300) and Chris Jones (6-1, 309) have done an admirable job filling in, and they should continue to help. But they are much different players than Wilfork and Kelly, both in physical makeup and playing style -- they are smaller and better on the move.

In turn, recent opponents have had some success running at the heart of the team's defense (the Jets totaled 52 rushes on Oct. 20), even though the Patriots have sent bigger linebackers Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower in a downhill attack-the-line-of-scrimmage role more often to help account for the lack of bulk up front.

With the 6-foot-2, 330-pound Sopoaga, the Patriots now add more of a pure hold-the-point 3-4 nose tackle, which should help them in the battle to control the line of scrimmage.

The price seems reasonable. The need undeniable.

While some might be disappointed that a higher-profile receiver-type isn't coming to town via trade, this is the position that trumped all for the Patriots, in part because they haven't selected a big defensive tackle since the seventh round of the 2010 draft. The pipeline was dry.

Nice move.