FOXBOROUGH --- When New England hosts the Broncos Sunday at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots will not only see a familiar nemesis at quarterback for Denver in Peyton Manning, but will welcome back another familiar face in center Dan Koppen, the former Pro Bowl center who for nine seasons served as Tom Brady's batterymate.
Now, it appears, Koppen will be doing the honors for Manning.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 300-pound Koppen, who was New England's fifth-round pick in the 2003 draft out of Boston College, started 120 games over eight seasons before he fractured his left ankle in the first half of last year's season-opening 38-24 victory at Miami.
Koppen missed the remainder of the season as well as the Patriots' Super Bowl appearance and wound up being released Aug. 31. The Broncos signed him last month as a free agent and threw him into the breach last Sunday against the Raiders when starting center J.D. Walton fractured and dislocated his left ankle on the final play of the second quarter vs. Oakland.
“I thought he did very well,'' coach John Fox said. "One thing about NFL football is the tape is never as good as you think and it’s never as bad as you think. We still have a lot of improving to do.
"Dan, with more reps in practice and a better understanding of our offense, he’s capable of playing better, but he did a good job, kind of on-the-job training, just getting thrown out there quickly when J.D. went down. Considering all that, he did an excellent job.”
Walton was placed on injured reserve Monday, likely thrusting Koppen, 33, into a starting role against his former team.
"He had a similar injury [a year ago] as J.D.just had,'' Fox said. "That’s why he wasn’t with a team. We felt really good about the addition of him because he brings top-notch experience at that position. We had the opportunity to sign him, and we did, and I’m glad we did.”
Asked if it will be as strange to see Koppen in a Broncos uniform as it will be to see Manning in one, Patriots left tackle Nate Solder broke into a laugh.
"You know, that's kind of the way thise league is," said Solder. "People change and move. I wonder if it's more shocking for him than it will be for us.''
Solder doesn't expect any tearful reunions on the field before the game.
"I just think the focus will be on beating him more than anything,'' he said.