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With Koppen out, Pats explore options

9/13/2011

Stew Milne/US Presswire

With Dan Koppen sidelined with an ankle injury, the spotlight shifts to Dan Connolly.Patriots coach Bill Belichick and personnel director Nick Caserio suggested during conference calls with the media Tuesday that their process of evaluating potential additions to the offensive line won't change this week even as the team deals with the likelihood that center Dan Koppen will be sidelined for an extended stretch.

Koppen suffered a fracture in his left ankle during Monday night's 38-24 win over the Dolphins at Miami, according to a league source. He was expected to undergo an MRI on Tuesday to determine the full extent of the damage before a timetable for his return can be established.

But it's safe to say the Patriots likely will need to add an interior lineman moving forward.

Whether that comes from within the organization or with the acquisition of a veteran, a la Brian Waters, remains to be seen. As for filling Koppen's starting role, Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien heaped praise on the job Dan Connolly did in shuffling into that center role during Monday's Week 1 win over the Dolphins.

"Well, [Koppen is] a guy that's played a lot of football for us at a very important position," O'Brien said. "That’s not something that’s an easy thing to adjust to, but I do think that Dan Connolly went in there last night and performed pretty darn well for the situation he was put into. I'm confident in what he’s been able to do for us."

Connolly, who stepped in last season at right guard when Stephen Neal was injured, had been rotating at that spot on Monday night with Waters (an 11-year veteran signed last week to add depth on the interior line). Now Connolly likely will find himself back in the starting lineup in place of Koppen, especially after O'Brien noted the team made no offensive adjustments when Connolly took Koppen's place.

"With [Connolly], we didn’t adjust the game plan at all, we did the same things we did during the whole game," O'Brien said. "Like I said before, I thought he came in and did a good job ... the whole line played a very solid football game for us, and he was part of it."

Belichick noted that Caserio and the personnel staff are constantly evaluating the roster against what's available, especially early in the season when there are more bodies on the free-agent heap. The Patriots promoted Thomas Welch from the practice squad Monday for emergency depth (he was released on Tuesday, according to a source) with right tackle Sebastian Vollmer sidelined with a back injury (rookie Nate Solder started in his place).

"It's a continuous evaluation of personnel options," Belichick said. "If you feel there’s a way to improve your team, I think you consider it."

Added Caserio: "I would say that today is no different than any other day. We do research throughout the year, whether it's in the spring through training camp or the regular season. Our approach today is no different than any other week. We're going through business as normal."