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Connolly the center of attention; Thu notes

Dan Koppen's understudy could be a crucial role on a grand stage this weekend. Plus, Darius Butler discusses Peyton Manning, as well as news and notes from the New England locker room and Thursday's practice.

Tom Bradyhas said that he knows his center, Dan Koppen'sbackside like the back of his hand.

But what about Dan Connolly's?

"I don't know. Probably not that well," a joking Connolly told reporters. "Hopefully, he'll get to know it pretty good."

If you hadn't noticed that Koppen limped off the field in the second quarter of New England's 27-17 win over Miami this past Sunday, you wouldn't have known the difference. Connolly, a fourth-year player from Southeast Missouri State, stepped in and performed as if he'd been the starter all along. No mishandled snaps with Brady, no penalties, no apparent miscues of any kind.

"It's difficult, don't get me wrong," Connolly said of going from the sidelines to having his hand on the football on every snap, "but that's what we prepare ourselves for every week – to be ready at the drop of a hat and go in there and get the job done. That's what's expected of me and that's what I try to do."

Every day before practice, Connolly and Brady make it a point to get some work together so that, in the event of an emergency – as we witnessed in the last game – the transition can be seamless.

However, the 6-4, 313-pound Connolly also gets work in at fullback (he threw a key block on Laurence Maroney'stouchdown run against the Dolphins) and on the special teams (he fielded a squib kick in the first quarter of the Miami game).

This week, though, with Koppen's availability in doubt because of the knee injury he suffered this past Sunday, Connolly may be asked to take on a more prominent role in the New England offense when the Pats travel to undefeated Indianapolis to face the Colts.

"Kop's been good this week," Connolly added, "giving me tips on things to work on and making sure my timing's good."

Timing will be critical for the Pats offense in the noisy atmosphere of Lucas Oil Stadium, where Connolly and New England's predominantly shotgun-based passing attack (70 percent of their passes are generated from the gun) will likely have to employ a good amount of silent counts. When asked about that aspect of the game, Connolly appeared confident he'd be up to the task.

"Yeah, and I've worked on it over the years. I feel like I'm very comfortable doing it. We just all need to be on the same page, know when the ball's being snapped. It's all about rhythm. It takes practice.

"They're a great defense," Connolly concluded, "and it's definitely going to be a challenge to go up against them. I look forward to it."

Butler eager for Manning's 'challenge'

Rookie cornerback Darius Butlerentertained a large crowd of reporters at his locker Wednesday. The media wanted Butler's thoughts on facing a quarterback of Peyton Manning'sstature.

"He's one of the best quarterbacks in the league," Butler answered. "It's going to be a great challenge."

Butler said he's been watching a lot of film of Manning and can see clearly why the QB is one of the elites of all time.

"He knows what [coverage] you're in, he knows your weaknesses, he attacks them. You see the checks he makes at the line of scrimmage. He's always getting his team out of bad plays. That's what makes him great."

Butler insists, however, that he's not in awe of Manning.

"It's Week 10 now, and I'm on a team with Tom Brady and Randy Moss, so I kind of got over that. I'm just ready to go out and beat him. It's going to be a great challenge."

How does Butler plan to counter Manning's constant audibling and pre-snap distractions?

"You really can't. You have to disguise sometimes and hopefully catch him off-guard … Going up against Tom every day in practice is good preparation."

Thursday locker room/practice notes

The Patriots donned full pads for Thursday's workout on their training camp fields behind Gillette.

Moss, who skipped Wednesday's session for non-injury reasons, was back on the field with his teammates and was removed from the official injury report. However, the other nine players, including Koppen, who weren't in action yesterday also missed today's workout: rookie WRs Julian Edelmanand Brandon Tate, RBs Fred Taylorand Sammy Morris, S Brandon Meriweather, LB Eric Alexander, LT Matt Light, and DL Jarvis Green.

TE Chris Bakerwas wearing a red, no-contact jersey and was added to the injury report with a shoulder ailment. LB Tully Banta-Cain was also added with a groin problem.

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