We are saddened to report the passing of former Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Pio Sagapolutele. Pio was just 39 years young. He died in Arizona of a massive stroke and heart attack.
Sag was drafted by the Browns from San Diego State in the fourth round in 1991. Belichick was drawn to his massive size (6 and a half feet tall). Pio played in Brownstown through to the end of the 1995 season. He then played one year in New England with Belichick in 1996, for whom he started at right defensive tackle against Green Bay in Super Bowl XXX. Pio started 13 games that year for the Pats.
Over five years with the Browns, Pio played in 63 games (11 starts) and tallied 56 tackles and 2 sacks.
Sag always kept a warm spot in his heart for the Browns. In 2005, 8 years after his career was ended by a devastating elbow injury, Pio said in an interview that his best memory over his professional playing days was being out on the field for his first game with Cleveland. Pio reflected on how far he had come from his roots in American Samoa through to high school football in Honolulu.
Our condolensces go out to Pio’s wife and his four children in Arizona. 39 years is not nearly enough time on this Earth. What we remember about Pio more than anything was his emotion and passion on the field.
Pio’s untimely death comes on the heels of more action in the trenches that Sag once was a part of. The Browns just signed offensive tackle George Foster after he was released by the Lions on June 1. Foster is a very big guy at nearly 340 pounds and 6.5 feet tall. He is 29 years old and entering his seventh year in the NFL. Foster played his college football at Georgia and four years in Denver (2003-2006; drafted by the Broncos in the first round in 2003, 20th overall) followed by two seasons for the Lions (2007-2008). George is fairly durable, having played in 15 or 16 games in four of his six seasons in the NFL. He started three games last year in Detroit.
In 2004, Foster never missed an offensive snap with the Broncos. He was an integral part of an offensive line that broke the franchise record by allowing only 15 sacks. Further, that year Denver had three running backs who posted at least one 100-yard game. In 2005, Foster helped the Broncos gain more than 2500 yards on the ground (the second most in team history and the second most in the NFL that season).
Meanwhile, on the other side of the football, the Browns continue to change the priorities of the defensive line. There is now much more emphasis on pass rush. That is music to our ears. Last year was pathetic for the Browns’ pass rush. We had 17 total sacks – second worst in the NFL. Not a single Brown was in the top 40 in sacks in the League. But the statistics do not reveal the whole picture. Any fan who watched the games last season will attest to the frustrating trend of very few blitzes which led to opposing quarterbacks having enough time to mix lemonade in the pocket before throwing the football. It does not matter who you have in the secondary, in today’s game, passes WILL be completed if there is enough time to do so. Coverage cannot hold forever.
About one week ago, linebacker David Bowens confirmed the focus on aggressive defense. Eric Barton seconded that. Bowens and Barton both played under Mangini before, thus, they have a feel for his defensive strategy. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, for whom Mangini is new and a stark contrast to Romeo Crennel, stated that there was more emphasis on attack, pressure and blitzes. That must be refreshing for Jackson as he had to endure years of poor defensive rankings in Cleveland; including 26th, 27th and 30th in the NFL in the last few seasons.
Mangini is not the only person responsible for a rejuvenated defensive mentality in Cleveland. Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan was expected to bring an aggressive focus to the Team. For example, in 2007, Ryan coached two players in Oakland, DE Derrick Burgess and LB Chris Clemons, who were each in the top 10 in the Conference in sacks. In 2007, the Raiders’ defense under Ryan ranked better than middle of the pack in the NFL in sacks. Going all the way back to his college coaching days, Ryan emphasized pass rush. In 1998, while Ryan was Oklahoma State’s defensive coordinator, the Cowboys were second in the entire nation in sacks (41).
Bring back the emphasis on trench football in Cleveland. Goodbye Pio.