After writing similar posts about Delanie Walker and Randy Moss, the answer to this one is easy. So let’s go over a few interesting things about Isaac Sopoaga before we get to the painful part of this exercise.
— Sopoaga (4th round) is the only remaining player from the San Francisco 49ers’ 2004 draft class besides Andy Lee (6th round). Also drafted in 2004: Rashaun Woods (who was just named head coach at John Marshall High School in Oklahoma City), Justin Smiley, Shawntae Spencer, Derrick Hamilton, Richard Seigler, Keith Lewis, Cody Pickett and Christian Ferrara. Spencer is the only other player from that list who’s still in the league, and Spencer’s career may be over after an injury-shortened 2012 with the Oakland Raiders.
– Sopoaga’s arm strength (which he built by throwing rocks at coconuts while growing up in Samoa) is hard to believe, even when you see him throw in person. He barely takes a step forward, and with a quick flick of his arm and wrist sends spirals soaring 60+ yards in the air. Not that I’m insinuating Sopoaga is on something, but watching him hurl footballs from effectively one side of the field to the other is like watching Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa take batting practice in the late-1990s. From 49ers.com:
Sopoaga displays his deep throws every day to start practice, typically warming up with fellow defensive linemen with cross-field throws. At Thursday’s availability, Sopoaga estimated he could throw the ball 70-73 yards standing still and 80-85 yards with a running start. According to defensive tackle Ray McDonald, Sopoaga was clocked throwing a baseball at 95 miles per hour.
When we got to our seats at the Superdome about 90 minutes before Super Bowl XLVII, I saw Sopoaga grab a football and advised my wife to pay attention. “This guy throws farther than anyone on the team, including Kaepernick,” I said. Then from a distance of about 30 yards from an unidentifiable teammate, Sopoaga effortlessly threw the ball … left-handed.
— Before the season, a group of 10-12 media guys were in the locker room during the time allotted to player availability (which, as usual, meant the locker room was mostly empty). Jim Harbaugh seemed to take pity on us that day, and brought a few of us over to the curtain that separates the locker room from the meeting rooms and all sorts of other places media people don’t get to see. The 49ers head coach showed us a white board where each player is chosen to write a quote for the day, and Harbaugh spoke about the tradition and some of the ones he remembered.
Harbaugh must have been in a fantastic mood, because then he walked over to Sopoaga’s locker and asked Sopoaga if he could show the media guys his notebook. Sopoaga didn’t really have a choice, and he sheepishly trudged over with his coach to where six of us were standing and watched Harbaugh flip through his notes. Here’s what followed:
“Nobody in the history of football has done this with a notebook,” Harbaugh said.
Then he leafed through Sopoaga’s notebook. While Sopaga’s penmanship was quite neat, it was undeniably masculine (put it this way: you won’t find any bubbly looking letters or circles dotting the i’s in there). None of us know enough about the 49ers’ defensive playbook to have the slightest inkling what anything on those pages meant, but the way it was put together was strikingly intricate. Each page was divided up into different quadrants — each with headlines featuring that same shaded block lettering we saw with “NOBODY,” with paragraphs underneath. No space wasted on each page, no words crossed out. Words upon words, creating patterns. Sopoaga said that taking notes the way he does allows him to retain information visually.
I asked Sopoaga if he’s an artist in other ways. Sopoaga said he doesn’t draw but considers himself an artist, as he designs t-shirts as well as his tattoos. He lifted up his leg to show a design around his right ankle that he came up with. Sopoaga also said his style of writing came reading speeches ministers in Samoa wrote for their Sunday sermons.
Sopoaga is an interesting guy, but his days as a 49er are probably coming to an end.
It wasn’t a good sign when he lost his part-time fullback gig to Will Tukuafu. Sopoaga also stopped playing special teams in 2012 and was the lowest-rated 49ers defender according to Pro Football Focus (-12.0). PFF gave him poor grades as a pass rusher (-4.6) and as a run stopper (-8.5). The only area where Sopoaga excelled was staying penalty-free over the course of 335 snaps, almost 90 fewer defensive snaps than in 2011 and nearly 250 fewer plays than Sopoaga lined up for in 2010.
The 49ers kept Ian Williams on the roster all year but hardly used him; it’s probably time to see what he can do. Same with Tukuafu, who played twice as much on offense (92 snaps) as he did on defense (44). San Francisco also has a bunch of draft picks at their disposal, as everyone knows. Over the weekend we talked about the chances of packaging some of those to move up for a highly touted Justin Smith replacement, but the 49ers may need to find the next Sopoaga in this draft as well. Good luck finding one who can throw 80 yards, though.