THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Koppen always in middle of the action

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / January 15, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH — In a year in which the Patriots’ offensive line has dealt with season-ending injuries to right tackle Nick Kaczur (back) and right guard Stephen Neal (shoulder), a holdout by left guard Logan Mankins, and concerns about its depth, Dan Koppen has remained a constant presence and stabilizing force in the trenches.

Along with tackles Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer, Koppen has not missed a snap.

From training camp to the regular season, Koppen has remained at the center of it all.

When the top-seeded Patriots host the sixth-seeded Jets tomorrow in an AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium, Koppen will reprise his role as New England’s starting center. As he did throughout the 14-2 regular season, Koppen will assume responsibility for triggering every offensive play with a crisp delivery of the football to quarterback Tom Brady. But Koppen’s important job entails much more than that.

“Dan is one of those guys that he’s so, so consistent,’’ coach Bill Belichick said of the eight-year veteran from Boston College, who was drafted in the fifth round (164th overall) in 2003. “I don’t want to say that you take him for granted, but in a way you kind of do. He’s always there.’’

Save for his third season, when he started the first nine games before a shoulder injury forced him to injured reserve, Koppen has indeed always been there. For his team, his coaches, and the fans.

“He’s a very intelligent player,’’ Belichick said. “A very football smart, savvy player.’’

Asked how long it took him to develop a comfort level with his 6-foot-2-inch, 296-pound center, Brady replied, “The day he got here.’’

“I mean, he had a lot of experience at center,’’ Brady said, referring to Koppen’s stint as a three-year starter at BC. “He’s smart enough to make all the calls. Things change very quickly for the center, so he’s responsible for making all the line calls, and he’s as good as there is at that.’’

A 2007 Pro Bowl selection, Koppen has never been one to seek out the limelight or to collect accolades. His wedding band notwithstanding, perhaps the most precious baubles among his belongings would be the gaudy Super Bowl rings he earned in his first two seasons with the Patriots.

“That first year [in 2003] was just crazy from April on,’’ Koppen recalled. “You just didn’t have any time [to reflect]. You just had to keep your head down and go. I was fortunate to come into this organization, get an opportunity, and win some football games.’’

Asked how he managed to stay so resilient, so present, throughout his career, Koppen offered a simple reply: “I do my job. It’s what we do.’’

“He makes a lot of good football decisions on the field, adjustments, those kind of things,’’ Belichick said. “He’s been doing it for a long time for us. I know that every vet has a lot of confidence in Dan, his teammates on the line, the guys playing behind him in the backfield, the coaches. Like I said, he’s there every day, performs at a very consistent level and a high level, both run and pass, blitz pickup, adjustments, all those things.

“So he’s been solid for us and it’s always a plus at that offensive line position to have that kind of consistency and continuity. And he’s provided it.’’

But Koppen hasn’t done it alone.

“I think our backups — and I hate to call them backups because you know every one of them have been ready to play — have come in and done a great job,’’ he said. “Our guys work hard and prepare like they’re going to play every day, every snap. They go out there and prove it when they’re called upon and they’ve come in and done a great job.’’

Asked if his job requires him to study as hard as the quarterback, Koppen chuckled. “I think Tom has a lot he’s got to study. His job, I don’t think I’d want that job, but I think everyone on this team does their part,’’ said Koppen.

New England’s offense may take its cues from its quarterback, but even Tom Brady knows the Patriots wouldn’t have come as far as they have this season without Dan Koppen’s steady presence in the middle of it all.

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

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