FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Amongst the many story lines heading into the Patriots' regular season opener on Sunday is who will emerge as the team's starting center.
The starter to open the 2011 season, Dan Koppen, was a recent victim of the team's roster cuts, while the player who filled in for Koppen in his near season-long absence due to injury, Dan Connolly, could be called up to play right guard if Brian Waters remains absent from the Patriots' premises.
The player some consider the front-runner to start at the position, Ryan Wendell, is excited to kickoff the regular season schedule.
"I'm really excited, I think everybody is, to get the season started in earnest," Wendell told reporters Monday. "Fight for wins that count towards our record and I think that we're all excited for that. I am. I'm just really excited to go out there and do the best that I can in my role."
Regardless of who earns the start, it will be the first time since the 2003 season that anyone other than Koppen has anchored the center position to open the season.
Wendell describes Koppen as both a friend and a mentor.
"Koppen's a great guy, great player, and a great friend of mine. And I'm happy to be his friend in the future," he said, adding that he's learned "a lot" from playing behind him. "Being behind Koppen and watching him play for the past several years has been a great learning experience on how to be a pro."
When asked for specific examples of what he learned, Wendell said, "Work ethic, study habits, how to practice. Being a pro is about a lot more than what you do on Sundays."
It's likely that Wendell will use what we learned from Koppen in his preparation for the Titans, a team that he says brings a challenge along the defensive line.
"They're a really good team, lot of hard working guys, guys playing hard on the inside there," Wendell said. "I mean, we got [Sen'Derrick] Marks and [Jurrell] Casey, two real tough guys. Their whole defensive front, they all play hard, they all get to the ball. It's going to be a challenge and we're going to have to work hard."