Once again, Dan Conolly called upon to help shore up Patriots’ offensive line
|09.14.11 at 2:31 pm ET|
FOXBORO — With the report starting center Dan Koppen will be out six to 10 weeks after suffering a broken left ankle in the season-opening win over the Dolphins Monday night in Miami, the Patriots figure to lean heavily on Dan Connolly to be the man in the middle until Koppen returns.
It’s not the first time that Connolly has stepped forward to fill in for a missing offensive lineman: He started the first seven games of the 2010 season at left guard when Logan Mankins was out because of a contract dispute, and then he was called upon to make six starts at right guard when Stephen Neal went down with an ankle injury.
‘Dan’s a guy that obviously has played a lot of football for us at a very important position. So, that’s not something that’s an easy thing to adjust to,’ Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said. ‘I’m very confident in Dan and what he’s going to be able to do for us.’
And so, the 6-foot-4, 313-pounder will step into the center position. He saw some brief time at the center spot in 2009, and moved from right guard to center for the second half of Monday’s game in Miami.
‘I just, as always, prepare myself for any position, even if I’m starting at guard,’ Connolly before Wednesday’s practice. ‘I need to have that versatility to play any position. I was ready when the time came for that the other night.
‘I’ve always backed up that position and played it throughout my career, just had never done it in a game. Maybe there’s a little more comfort [now].’
The 29-year-old was originally signed by Jacksonville in 2005, but was released by the Jags in September 2007. The Patriots snapped him up less than two weeks later, where he landed on the practice squad. In 2008, he was promoted from the practice squad, and has been on the 53-man roster ever since.
Connolly had a turn in the spotlight last season when he returned a squib kick for 71 yards (almost scoring a touchdown) in a December win over the Packers, but the Southeast Missouri State product had built a reputation as a quality backup in New England. In six seasons in the NFL, Connolly has played in 34 games at center and guard (as well as occasionally serving as a goal-line fullback) and started 17 of them.
‘He’s been here for a few years, He’s been on the practice squad, he’s been on the roster, he’s played center, he’s played guard. He’s returned kickoffs,’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick with a smile. ‘He’s been a pretty versatile guy for us, playing all the inside positions, really, and playing in different roles the last three years. Starting at left guard for weeks, then at right guard, and center. Alternate in there and play in the backfield, a little bit of tight end in short yardage and goal line. So, he’s done a lot of different things for us.’
Connolly says that just because he’s going to be making the move to center, he doesn’t anticipate spending any extra time with quarterback Tom Brady over the course of the week.
‘I don’t think so. I think we put in a lot of time as it is. I know we’re going to have to build a little bit of comfort with each other just because we don’t practice together as much [under center], but we’ll work on that,’ Connolly said. ‘I won’t get as many snaps in practice with him if I’m playing guard or just backing up the [center] position, so, getting five, six snaps before practice, they help out.’