Skip to main content

Center Koppen praised as foundation of offensive line

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots center Dan Koppen takes some of the best shots at quarterback Tom Brady - verbal ones.

The hub of an outstanding offensive line, Koppen knows he can tee off on his good friend because he and the other linemen are so good at keeping opponents from doing that.

"We're the guys that can sort of give him a rip shot or something like that, have some fun with him," Koppen said Tuesday. "But I guess we hold his fate, so he's got to be nice to us."

They've protected him so well that Brady has started 108 consecutive games during the regular season and playoffs. The streak started in the third game of the 2001 season, his second in the NFL, one week after Drew Bledsoe suffered a serious chest injury on a hit by New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis.

That season ended with the first of three Super Bowl championships in a four-year span for New England.

Koppen was drafted in 2003 in the fifth round out of Boston College and started 18 games as a rookie. Three of them were in the playoffs where Brady wasn't sacked a single time on the way to another title.

"You don't want to see him on the ground because if he's getting hit things can happen," Koppen said. "That's our job, to keep people off of him, and if we're not doing our job we're not going to have a chance to win games."

Brady was sacked just 26 times last season, the lowest total in the Patriots past 10 seasons.

Koppen is flanked by guards Logan Mankins and Stephen Neal and tackles Matt Light and Nick Kaczur. They've been together for several years, but everything revolves around Koppen, who calls the line adjustments.

"Dan is extremely smart and does a very good job," coach Bill Belichick said. "He's instinctive and does a great job with communication on the line of scrimmage."

Belichick said Koppen is probably just as good as the quarterbacks in setting up blocking and calling audibles and figuring out how to change the play.

"He's as good as anybody I've been around at communication and identification and just being football smart," Belichick said, "Knowing what's going to happen and when to do the right thing, when to change something, when to leave it the same."

Koppen said he appreciates the compliment. Then he keeps working hard to leave his past accomplishments behind and improve his play in the next practice.

"There's always a few plays in there that you remember and those are the ones that ruin your day and those are the ones that keep driving you," he said. "It doesn't matter what the coach says or what players say. All that matters is what we do on the field."

One player who gets a close look at Koppen's play is very impressed.

"The great thing about our offensive line is they've been together a while," fullback Heath Evans said. "Dan does a great job. It's easy to see when guys mess up, but you don't really see a lot of mess-ups and I think the cohesiveness is what we see as running backs."

Koppen's 2005 season ended after his ninth game when he suffered a shoulder injury. He started every game last season, including three in the playoffs. The Patriots fell short of another Super Bowl appearance with a 38-34 loss to Indianapolis in the AFC championship game in which Brady was sacked just once.

Even just one sack is more than Koppen wants the line to give up.

"You've got to take it personally," he said.

But there's still room for levity at the right moments.

"There's got to be that, just keeps it fun," Koppen said. "Having fun is going to get us better."

In the huddle, though, Brady is pretty much all business.

"He says some (funny) things every now and then but he's a competitor," Koppen said. "He wants everybody to do their job and do it right so he's out here to help us win and we've got to do the same for him."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.