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Kelly's focus is on Raiders, not the future
Pictured from left to right: Bennie Logan, Isaac Sopoaga and Damion Square (USA Today Images).
He didn’t have a huge impact on Sundays. The sum total of Isaac Sopoaga’s eight-game Eagles career was 18 tackles.
In the locker room, on the practice field, in the meeting rooms, in film study, it was a different story.
When the Eagles traded Sopoaga and a sixth-round pick to the Patriots Tuesday for a 2014 fifth-round pick (see story), it barely created a ripple on the NFL landscape.
Over-priced, unproductive veteran for a late-round draft pick.
For the Eagles’ young defensive linemen, Sopoaga’s brief stay in Philadelphia was anything but uneventful or irrelevent.
Take a bunch of young kids just starting out their NFL careers and put them in a room with a 32-year-old veteran of 10 seasons, 132 games and a Super Bowl and the effect is a profound one.
“Soap was a guy who as a veteran always let us know the reality of the league and he would always pull us to the side and tell us what the NFL was really like,” rookie defensive lineman Damion Square said.
“He was a guy who coached us up, let us take some extra reps, even if they were his reps. Soap was a great friend and a great motivator, showed me a lot of things, getting a feel for playing the nose [tackle], things like that.
“We’ll miss him, but I’m sure he’s in a great situation in New England with an organization that’s been winning for a long time, so hopefully I can be one of the guys who comes in and helps do some of the things he was doing and get this thing headed in the right direction.”
Square, an undrafted rookie defensive tackle from Alabama, is among the Eagles’ young defensive linemen who will get more snaps now that Sopoaga is gone.
Sopoaga spent his first nine seasons with the 49ers, and in 2005 and 2006 he was a young lineman on a team that included guys like Bryant Young, the four-time Pro Bowl defensive end who was nearing the end of his career.
Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis was defensive coordinator of those teams.
“I was with Soap back in San Francisco when he was a pup, and he had the Bryant Youngs of the world raising him and he just turned it around and gave it back to the young guys on this team,” Davis said.
“The young guys, I hope they understand and I’ve tried to get that across to them, that these are special people that are helping you get better because eventually you’re over-taking their spot.”
Sopoaga’s replacement in the starting lineup will be Bennie Logan, the rookie third-round pick from LSU.
Logan said Sopoaga took him under his wing as soon as he was drafted and never hesitated to help him out.
“I learned a lot from him,” he said after practice Wednesday, the Eagles’ first practice since Sopoaga was traded. “Just how to practice, learning the defense, studying and keying offensive lineman and just your approach to your game.
“He taught me when things aren’t going hour way, just relax and be calm with everything and that’s probably the most important thing I learned from him.”
The irony here is that the more Sopoaga worked with Logan, the better Logan became. And the better Logan played, the more expendable Sopoaga became.
“It definitely caught me by surprise because it’s a guy I looked up to when I got here, through camp and even now,” he said. “He lived close by me, and I always tried to pattern myself after him, the way he approached his job, the way he worked on his craft, the way he took care of his body.
“Soap was definitely a great role model to me. The things I learned from him, I’ll continue to build from them and go from here.”
Defensive end Clifton Geathers is only 25 but has already spent time with the Cowboys, Dolphins, Colts and Eagles. He said Sopoaga was one of the most influential teammates he’s been around.
“I respected Soap a lot,” Geathers said. “Soap taught me a lot of things. He’s so much older than I am, but he still had tremendous energy, he had all the tools, he could lift a house.
“Soap just kept me even on the days when I was upset about something, Soap would talk to me and help me out with it. That’s the kind of guy he was.”