Patriots' Koppen front and center

He's key to holding off onrushing Dolphins

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / November 22, 2008
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FOXBOROUGH - Dan Koppen is all about the work. He is all about his job, as thankless and tough as it is.

The sixth-year center from Boston College does not consider himself the focal point of the Patriots' offensive line, although his teammates say he is. Koppen is not about hearing his number called out over Gillette Stadium's public address because that usually means he's done something wrong.

Even if that public acknowledgement didn't carry a negative connotation, Koppen would not seek the limelight or take credit for throwing his body into harm's way to protect quarterback Matt Cassel or open holes for the running backs.

That's just part of his job.

Ever since he took over the starting role in Week 2 of his rookie season in 2003, no one's done it better than Koppen.

No one, with the notable exception of Tom Brady, has been as reliable, as knowledgeable, or as indispensable.

So when Koppen went down in the first half of the 34-31 overtime loss to the Jets with an injured elbow, it was a stark reminder of just how reliable and knowledgeable and indispensable he's been.

"Oh, very much," said Russ Hochstein, who was pressed into action at center against the Jets. "He's a big reason for a lot of the success that we've had around here. So, definitely, it's a reminder that injuries are a part of the game and we all need to be ready to go when our time is called. But, definitely, you always hope he is on the field.

"Dan's a smart player," Hochstein added. "He's dependable, consistent, and we're glad to have him in there all the time."

Koppen was listed as questionable in yesterday's injury report, though he fully participated in practice. He will be needed against a Dolphins defense that had four sacks (three by Joey Porter) during a 38-13 win over the Patriots in Week 3.

"We've got some big weeks ahead of us," said Koppen. "Miami is playing really well, playing really good on defense, and they got a lot of guys who can make plays in there, so it's going to be a tough challenge for us on Sunday, and we've got to bring our best game down there."

Koppen knows the Patriots are capable of generating more than just 14 first downs and 216 yards of total offense (on 59 plays), as they did in the last meeting against the Dolphins.

He has witnessed the maturation of Cassel, who established career highs against the Jets in passing yards (400), passing attempts (51), and rushing yards (62). Cassel also tied his career best with three touchdown passes, including a 16-yarder to Randy Moss that tied the score with one second left.

"Matty's been here for a while and he knows the system," Koppen said. "It's about getting him reps and experience and he's growing each week and learning from everything he's done. He's doing well."

Did Cassel show something in the Jets game?

"Yeah, he's been showing us stuff all along," Koppen said. "There's a lot of trust in what he does and what he can do. With Matty there, we're just trying to move on."

It's the same trust many in the Patriots organization have placed in Koppen, a stalwart who last season added to his alma mater's reputation for producing NFL linemen when he earned his first Pro Bowl selection.

"We came from a proud program and we've obviously had a number of guys go to the league over the years," Koppen said of BC. "That's always cool to look back and see what we accomplished there and see how guys are able to move on and play professionally. That's a testament to the coaches we had at BC and to the type of guys they recruited."

Koppen was in a hurry to get dressed for practice. There was no time to dwell on the past. He had work to do and there was only so much time left to prepare for Miami.

"I feel fortunate in coming here," said Koppen, a fifth-round selection (164th overall) in 2003. "Whatever I can do to help this team along, I'm willing to do. Matty being back there, we've just got to give him the time and make him feel comfortable."

As for his own comfort level, does it help to have cemented a role on this team?

"You don't ever feel like you've cemented a spot," Koppen said. "I just try and go out there and do whatever I can and help the team win. As long as we get W's, we're all happy. As far as me? I just want to come out and go to work every day."

Michael Vega can be reached at

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