Koppen fighting to be at the center of things

Koppen fighting to be at the center of things
May 24, 2012, 6:58 pm
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FOXBORO -- Dan Koppen might be fighting for his job.

During Thursday's OTAs, Dan Connolly -- formerly the backup -- was first in at center. Koppen answered questions about it during a media scrum . . . however glibly.

"I think there's always competition (for jobs)," he shrugged. "You approach every year, there's always guys coming in and trying to take your job and my approach this year is not going to be any different from last year. No one's job is safe on this team -- maybe minus Tom Brady. But you never know around here.

"You've just got to compete and work hard, show the coaches you can be reliable, dependable, that you know what to do, be in the right spot and just go. There'll always be competition; that's what the coaches stress to us and everybody coming in. That's what we're told."

The 32-year old has started 120 of the 121 games he's played as a career Patriot. When he broke his left fibula last season in Week 1, it was Connolly who stepped in. And it was Connolly who signed first during free agency, agreeing to a three-year, 9.7 million deal.

It sounded like starter's money.

Koppen was offered a deal before free agency began but tested the waters, most notably with a visit to the Titans. He re-signed with New England in mid-April: two years, almost 6 million.

Thursday, he said he's back where he belongs.

"I didn't want to go anywhere else," he said. "Thank goodness it did work out. It's more of a pain moving the whole family and getting that stuff squared away. To be able to play here . . . hopefully for a little bit more -- end my career here -- it's a good feeling. So this is where I want to be. This is what I know. I'm just excited to play this year."

Ironcally, the league is changing the injured reserve rule this season. Had it been done one year earlier, Koppen -- who went on IR September 21 -- could have come back after Week 8.

"It's tough," he said of the absence. "It makes you appreciate things a lot more. Especially sitting around watching . . . you put everything into the offseason. Just to sit around and watch, it makes you have greater appreciation for your job and being around the guys and going out there and playing for one another."

But he's not thinking about what could have been. A full season to recuperate was beneficial; Koppen said he's now healthy, "good to go."

Whether he'll be "going" from the start or off the bench is less certain.

As far as he'd let on, Koppen's focus is wider. The team is stockpiled all over the place and it won't shake out for weeks. Adding talent and creating competition is the only way to push the entire team, right?

"If you're going to stay still, everybody else around you is just going to get better," said Koppen. "All 32 teams right now, 31 other teams, we're at the same point. It's just how hard we work now that's going to really determine how we do this year. If we come in and think we've got all the answers, that's not the right approach -- might as well just come in, try to learn it like a rookie, and just go out there and work as hard as we can."

We'll see how he feels in September.