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Pats' Hochstein in position to replace Koppen

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Nov. 16, 2005) -- Russ Hochstein has been in this position before, that of a little-known reserve replacing a high-profile teammate.

Hochstein stepped in at left guard for Damien Woody during the New England Patriots' playoff run to a Super Bowl crown two years ago. Now, he must replace center Dan Koppen, who sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in Miami.

Koppen had started all 46 games, including playoffs, since the second week of his rookie season of 2003.

"That's a tremendous loss," Hochstein said of Koppen. "He was a leader on and off the field. All of the success we've had, a lot of it is from him. He helped get us there. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill."

Including his playoff appearances, Hochstein has started only six games in five seasons, none at center.

"I've taken reps at it and I've played some in preseason, things like that, but this is a whole new ballgame," he said. "I need to work hard to improve. I have to work on knowing things a lot better, seeing things more, being alert to things that I wasn't maybe as in tune to doing."

The Patriots (5-4) are dealing with an injury crisis on both sides of the ball.

Six defensive backs are out for the season, including cornerback Randall Gay, placed on injured reserve along with Koppen. Defensive end Richard Seymour returned to the lineup last week after missing four games with a knee problem.

Koppen is the third member of the offensive line to be hurt this season. Left tackle Matt Light has missed six games with an ankle problem, and right tackle Tom Ashworth sat out the 23-16 win over the Dolphins with a knee injury.

The Patriots also were without receiver David Givens (knee), tight end Daniel Graham (shoulder), fullback Patrick Pass (hamstring) and backup running back Kevin Faulk (foot).

Running back Corey Dillon, nursing a sore ankle, left after the first play of last week's game with a calf injury. Newly signed fullback Heath Evans stepped in and carried the ball 17 times for 84 yards.

The Patriots have earned a reputation for overcoming injuries, dating all the way back to their Super Bowl season of 2001. Tom Brady became a starter then after Drew Bledsoe went down.

In 2003, Woody hurt his knee in the first round of the playoffs. Hochstein finished up, then started the AFC Championship Game win over Indianapolis and the Super Bowl victory over Carolina.

Before the Super Bowl, defensive lineman Warren Sapp, a former teammate of Hochstein with Tampa Bay, ridiculed his ability on national TV. Sapp predicted Hochstein would struggle with the Panthers' talented defensive line.

But Brady completed a Super Bowl-record 32 passes and was not sacked as the Patriots won 32-29.

"Well, that was two years ago," said Hochstein, a former standout at Nebraska. "It was the Super Bowl, but it was also at a different position. So, I'll leave that in the past and work on what I have to do now."

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