Koppen fighting to be at the center of things

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Koppen fighting to be at the center of things

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.

Bennett on Goodell: 'Where is he? He's like Waldo right now'

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Bennett on Goodell: 'Where is he? He's like Waldo right now'

FOXBORO -- Leave it to Martellus Bennett, the children's book author, to make a cartoon reference when asked about the lingering effects of Deflategate. 

Could hear the "Where's Roger?" chants that rang throughout Gillette Stadium on Sunday night, a reporter wondered? Bennett deflected at first. 

"Who's Roger," he asked? 

Then it was pointed out to him that the chants were directed to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who opted to attend the NFC title game in Atlanta -- his second trip to the Georgia Dome in as many weeks -- instead of the AFC title game between the Patriots and Steelers. 

"Oh yeah," Bennett said, his memory apparently jogged. "Where is he? He's like Waldo right now. He didn't want to come here."

Tom Brady was asked about the chants as well. He had to have heard them, a reporter noted. 

"I didn't hear that chant," Brady insisted. "I did hear them singing to Bon Jovi, though, that was pretty cool."

Awaiting the Patriots in Houston will be the Atlanta Falcons, obviously, but one side plot will be the potential for a face-to-face for Goodell and the Patriots.

In the past, Goodell has handed the Lombardi Trophy to the Super Bowl winner following the game -- a tradition one would expect would continue this year regardless of who wins. The commissioner has also awarded the game's MVP award to the honoree on the morning after the game. Following the Super Bowl two seasons ago, Brady and Goodell shared a stage as Brady accepted the MVP hardware.