One of the more understated stories of this past off-season is how the Patriots brought back longtime center Dan Koppen on a short term contract. Koppen was injured in week 1 of the 2011 season and the Patriots shuffled around with Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, and Nick McDonald all seeing time at center. The Patriots have all four centers back under contract, although Dan Connolly could be in the driver's seat for the center position. From most reports, Dan Connolly has had a very solid camp, while Dan Koppen has struggled.
To me, it's clear that Koppen is insurance in case guard Brian Waters decides to retire, as Koppen will allow Connolly to kick out to guard. I haven't been the strongest supporter of Koppen the past few seasons as I see an average player on the field. He hasn't been strong enough to hold the point of attack, nor has he been quick enough to slide and support the guards. A lot of the Patriots inability to move the ball was due to quick pressure up the middle- and straight through Koppen.
Connolly presents a slightly more solid option, although where his upside is remains unclear. He is a competent player who hasn't had the chance to fully develop a role on the offensive line, which means handing him the keys to the pivot point could allow him to develop into a more-than-solid player.
Last year, I made the point of showing how important the pivot position is for an offensive line and how the tendencies of one lineman can ruin the chemistry and protection for the whole unit. If Connolly is better than Koppen, I hope he gets the nod. However, an important Patriots might have a different opinion.
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 that, 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. So a lot of times I can see the laces and manipulate my hand to actually hit the laces and grab it and throw it quickly. If you don’t find the laces …"
My interpretation is that for an open question about snaps from centers, Brady immediately starts talking about the strengths of Koppen. A couple questions prior, Brady is asked about how it was to play with multiple centers throughout the season and touches on his rapport with Koppen.
Perhaps Brady was already thinking of Koppen due to the prior question so his snapping ability was on his mind. I think it's just as likely that Brady prefers the comfort of Koppen under center, even with his blocking deficiencies. As the team has added additional receiving weapons, the Patriots could see their number of snaps out of the shotgun increase from the 50% mark it stood around last season.
Regardless of which Dan is called upon to play center, you can be sure that Belichick believes they will give the Patriots the best chance to win- and that's all we can really ask for.