Former New England Patriots long-time center Dan Koppen lost the starting gig last training camp to Ryan Wendell, who went on to be excellent in his first season as a starter with the Patriots. The current Pats starting center established himself as a tireless player in the no-huddle offense (led all offensive players in snaps last season) and was one of the best run blockers in the game whilst paving the way for Stevan Ridley in his big year as a first-year starter. Wendell’s pass protection still needs work, but it did improve as the year went on.
Meanwhile, Dan Koppen joined forces with another AFC contender, as the Denver Broncos picked him up and were able to get 12 starts out of Koppen when J.D. Walton went down with a severe ankle injury. Walton is a promising young center, but the veteran Koppen provided necessary leadership for the Broncos line and anchored a line that was the best pass protecting unit in the NFL (I’m sure Peyton Manning appreciated the clean pocket from which to operate).
When Walton needed ankle surgery this offseason that will likely cost him another season, the Broncos quickly re-signed the reliable 33-year-old Boston College product, and the center gig looked safe in Denver. But in practice today, Koppen suffered a severe knee injury, and FOX Sports’s Jay Glazer reports that the Broncos are afraid that Dan Koppen tore his ACL today. If so, then the bad luck continues for the team that I have tabbed (yes, over the Patriots) as the favorites in the AFC, and the Broncos will have to move to Plan C (whatever that is) at center if this is the case.
There are some other veteran centers available on the free agent market, but I doubt Jeff Faine and Eugene Amano sound like attractive options and are clearly downgrades to Koppen, who is still a more than capable center at 33. I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Koppen in the NFL, and I wish him a speedy and terrific recovery that will allow him to continue to be a quality player in this league. As for the Broncos, the Pats fortunes got a bit better, while the Broncos have a serious hole to fill on an otherwise exemplary offensive line. As of right now, converted guard Manny Ramirez would be the next in line to start at center for the Broncos, and it could stay that way if the Broncos dislike the free agent options (that’s not a stretch, but I believe they will sign a veteran).