New England Patriots center Dan Koppen has Tom Brady's favorite butt—next to his wife's, of course. But at 32 years, and coming off a broken ankle that ended his 2011 season, the Patriots may be wise to keep an eye toward the future.
Luckily for them, they happen to have their future waiting in the wings. Offensive linemen Dan Connolly has been a Swiss Army knife, pulling out any of the multiple utilities at his disposal depending on what is needed of him.
Need a fill-in at left guard while Logan Mankins holds out? No problem.
What about a right guard, when Steve Neal battled nagging injuries near the end of his career? Sure thing.
The veteran starting center of the past nine years goes down in Week 1? Connolly to the rescue!
And with all that Connolly has done for the team, all the times he's stepped up, filled in and played at a high level when the team was in need, he still has Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome.
Can't get no respect.
Not that these words should be perceived as a lack of respect for Connolly, but in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio's "Movin' the Chains," Brady was asked for his thoughts on the center position. He talked about it for awhile, so here are the important parts per ESPN Boston:
You played with four different centers last year. People underestimate the relationship between quarterbacks and centers.
I have had such a great rapport with Dan Koppen over the years, and he got hurt in the first game of the year. A guy landed on him. It was a tough injury. Then Dan Connolly came in. Ryan Wendell played for us. Then Nick McDonald played for us. A lot of the times, it’s about timing, getting the center/quarterback exchange.
The shotgun snaps from all those centers. Are they different? People might just think the ball comes back automatically.
I know. I think Dan Koppen is extremely gifted in [the shotgun snap], the tempo of the ball as well as the placement of the ball. Like you said, when you’re grabbing the ball quickly to throw it, you don’t have a lot of time to find the laces. When the ball comes back end over end, like a punt, it’s really hard to find the laces. If it’s spinning so quickly, you can’t find it.
But Brady's opinion isn't the only one that matters; in fact, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia may get the final say.
And if that's the case, it could be a jump-ball.
"[Connolly is] a really gifted athlete," said Scarnecchia, according to The Boston Globe. "When he came in here, this guy spent his time on the practice squad, he did everything he was supposed to do, he improved himself as a player and he’s a very, very good center in this league."
At least one website would beg to object, though. Pro Football Focus ranked Connolly 24th of the 31 centers to play 50 percent or more of their team's snaps. Under those same criteria in 2010, Koppen ranked 11th out of 30. Based on that, as well as Brady's inherent comfort level with Koppen, it looks like this is pretty much an open-and-shut case.
This story goes far beyond Connolly, Koppen and the center position, though; the Patriots offensive line is in disrepair with injuries to Mankins and tackle Sebastian Vollmer leaving the team thin, as well as Brian Waters' absence from camp.
The chain reaction sets in motion a confluence of circumstances that if the Patriots want to field their best five offensive linemen, that will mean putting Koppen at center and Connolly at one of the guard spots.
The Patriots have tried several combinations of interior offensive lines in training camp thus far with mixed results, but mostly bad ones.
Waters' arrival at camp is highly anticipated and should bring some stability, but for now, the Patriots must count on the stability they do have. As more players return to the field, the picture could become clearer.
But at some point, the Patriots are going to have to address their age on the inside. Getting Connolly involved is a good place to start.
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