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Koppen still in middle of things

Durable, capable center remains linchpin of line

Email|Print| Text size + By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / January 26, 2008

FOXBOROUGH - For the second time in as many days, quarterback Tom Brady was a no-show during the media-access portion of yesterday's Patriots practice at Gillette Stadium. Was Brady's sprained right ankle of concern to the man who for the better part of his five-year career has been Brady's batterymate?

Not in the least.

If center Dan Koppen knows anything about his durable quarterback, it is this: "He'll be there."

Koppen meant University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., where the Patriots will square off against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII Feb. 3.

When Brady does show up, without his right foot in a walking boot and a bouquet of flowers in hand, and takes the Patriots' first snap, you can count on Koppen being there to deliver it to him.

"Dan's been great," coach Bill Belichick said. "Dan's been very durable inside and he's given us a very consistent level of play, really pretty much since he's been here his rookie year, which is impressive, for a player to be able to come in as a rookie and handle all of the things, both physically and mentally, that we ask an offensive lineman and especially a center to do.

"He's been great pretty much from Day One, and day in and day out he's one of our most consistent, dependable players."

It was pretty much the same for Koppen after he arrived at Boston College from Whitehall, Pa.

A three-year starter at BC, where he received winning grades for blocking in every game he started, Koppen helped perpetuate the school's O-Line U. tradition when he was drafted in the fifth round (164th overall) in 2003.

Since then, the Pro Bowl-bound Koppen has been a stalwart, drawing his first start Sept. 14, 2003, against Philadelphia.

"He doesn't make very many mistakes," Belichick said. "He gives you a very consistent high level of performance."

Koppen had a string of 46 consecutive starts snapped when he was placed on injured reserve Nov. 15, 2005, with a shoulder injury. This season, he started all but one of the 16 regular-season games, sitting out Oct. 7 against Cleveland with an injured left ankle.

"Koppen's played in a lot of games and he's started in a lot of games and he's at an important position," said reserve guard/center Russ Hochstein. "He makes a lot of line calls that help all of the linemen out and he does it very well. He's a good leader on and off the field."

It wasn't until Hochstein filled in at center that he gained a true appreciation of Koppen's talents. "It's a very mental position and he has to make a lot of verbal communication and he does it very, very well and he works hard at it," said Hochstein.

Koppen's first season ended in Houston, where he helped the Patriots hoist their second Vince Lombardi Trophy in three seasons after a 32-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

His second year resulted in another Super Bowl triumph, this time over the Eagles in Jacksonville, Fla. Now he's in search of his third ring in five years.

Does it ever get to be old hat?

"Never," Koppen said. "It's just as exciting as the first time."

What did he recall about that experience?

"It was just one of those things you dream about when you're little," he said. "It was awesome looking back on it."

Koppen hopes for another milestone moment when the Patriots face the Giants, who have strong ties to his alma mater (former BC coach Tom Coughlin, guard Chris Snee, injured defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka).

As he watched the Giants and Packers play in Green Bay in the NFC Championship game last Sunday, did Koppen secretly root for the Big Blue?

"Not really," he said. "I just knew that we were going to playing a good team either way."

Having faced the Giants Dec. 29, Koppen knows what the Patriots' offensive line will be up against.

"The Giants are a very good team and they gave us a tough game the last time we played them," he said, referring to a 38-35 New England victory. "They've got a tough defense with a couple of pretty good pass rushers. We've just got to focus on the task at hand and do our jobs."

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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