The New England Patriots re-signed Dan Koppen today after he couldn't find a new home elsewhere in free agency.
Koppen is a nine year veteran who has played his whole career in New England snapping the ball to Tom Brady. The 32 year old started this past season for the Patriots but was lost after the opening game in Miami to a broken left fibula.
While Koppen was out, guard Dan Connolly stepped into the fray and became the team's starting center. Connolly started the whole way through the year and played well for the most part. The Patriots subsequently rewarded him with a three year $9.7 million deal.
Koppen and Connolly could be set to fight for the starting place entering next season at center but Connolly could also be involved in another competition.
The revelation this off-season that Logan Mankins played last season with a torn ACL in his knee led to the team signing veteran guard Robert Gallery. Gallery was a star tackle coming out of college, who Bill Belichick apparently was a big fan of, but struggled with the Oakland Raiders before moving to guard.
Gallery played well at guard in Oakland but eventually left in free agency to sign a deal with the Seattle Seahawks. He underperformed in Seattle and was cut after his first year with the team by head coach Pete Carroll. He likely won't be guaranteed the starting left guard spot in Mankins' place and Connolly is more than capable of playing the position.
The interior of the Patriots' offensive line is vital for the Patriots success on offense. Considering that Brian Waters is playing on borrowed time at 35 years of age at what is a very physically demanding position, and both Mankins and Koppen have injury issues to overcome/rebound from, the Patriots' depth will be severely tested next year.
Whether Koppen or Connolly starts remains unclear, but either way, along with Ryan Wendell, there is plenty of depth at center available. The guard position is going to be under greater scrutiny however as neither Waters or Mankins can be considered dead certainties to perform next year while Gallery has always been a better grafter than pass protector inside.
Connolly will be the key to the interior as his flexibility should really aid the team's efforts to adjust on offense.
Considering that the Patriots are also having to work with Matt Light to figure out whether he will be playing football next year or not, the whole offensive line is undergoing a somewhat taxing off-season. Nate Solder is a ready made replacement for Light, however with Sebastien Vollmer's injury struggles last year, the Patriots could be left thin at tackle should Light decide to retire.
With the line not yet shifting into focus, the Patriots' skill position players are also waiting to define themselves.
Obviously, the team's tight ends are set and the addition of Daniel Fells should be a boost as the third option. Brandon Lloyd, signed in the off-season, should clearly be a starting receiver also. However, the flurry of receivers who the Patriots have brought in, along with Wes Welker's continued lack of a long-term contract, envelops the team's receiving options in uncertainty.
Anthony Gonzalez was a peculiar signing initially, while Chad Ochocinco took a pay cut to stay with the team. Deion Branch was re-signed before Donte Stallworth also returned to Boston.
Presumably, there will be no issue with Welker being on the field once the season begins, however the competition for the third spot on the depth chart is intriguing behind he and Lloyd.
Gonzalez should be solely a depth guy fighting for a roster spot and to stay healthy. His versatility will be very welcome for Belichick's offense as Gonzalez can line up anywhere on the field. Branch's role will be what it was last year, however Ochocinco should push him for his spot after a year in the team's system.
Ochocinco has all the abilities to beat out Branch and even bring greater explosion to the offense. He initially struggled to learn the system in Cincinnati also as a rookie before emerging into a high quality receiver. He may not be Randy Moss circa 2007, but expect a lot more from Ochocinco next year.
That still leaves Donte Stallworth. Stallworth was criminally underused in Baltimore before playing in an impossible situation with the Redskins last year. At 31 years of age he still has his speed and showed glimpses last year of being a starting caliber player.
Stallworth, Branch and Ochocinco all bring different skill-sets to the field which would have a knock-on effect on the offense as a whole.
The Patriots' running-back situation has plenty of depth, but its main runner from last year was lost to free agency. BenJarvus Green-Ellis' greatest value to the Patriots was his ability to hold onto the football.
Green-Ellis never once fumbled the ball as a Patriots player despite being a hard runner. The team had prepared for losing him, but Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen need to prove that they can replace his role in the team with Danny Woodhead.
There should be more dynamism in the backfield for the Patriots' next year, but losing the reliability and consistency Green-Ellis provided will affect the offense as a whole also.
Tom Brady's offensive machine should continue to churn out points come September, but there is plenty of work still to be done between now and then. Most of that work will come within the lines as the team is set for a defensive oriented draft.
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