Via Twitter late this afternoon, our colleague Tom Curran from CSNNE reported that center Dan Koppen would be out 8-10 weeks with the broken ankle he suffered Monday night against Miami. Further, Curran asserted that due to that time frame, Koppen would be spared going on injured reserve. Subsequent media reports were a bit more optimistic, putting Koppen's return timeline at an early mark of just six weeks.
Until he can possibly return later this season, however, a temporary replacement must be found, whether one already on the roster or elsewhere.
That was the focus of discussion much of the past hour, as head coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, and player personnel director Nick Caserio took turns answering questions from reporters on a conference call.
After Koppen went down in the first half of last night's game, versatile interior lineman Dan Connolly – himself just recently healed from a foot injury in the preseason – stepped in and performed capably, according to O'Brien.
"That's not something that's an easy thing to adjust to, but I do think that Dan Connolly went in there last night and performed pretty damn well for the situation that he was put into," O'Brien began. "So, I'm very confident in [Connolly] and what he's going to be able to do for us."
Although he acknowledged that, depending on the player filling in, a team's offense might have to alter its game plan when an important cog such as the starting center leaves the game, O'Brien maintained that the Patriots did nothing different, play-calling-wise, with Connolly snapping the ball to Tom Brady.
"With Dan, we didn't adjust our game plan at all.
"The whole [offensive] line, I thought, played a very solid football game for us, and he was definitely part of it," O'Brien added.
That said, Belichick didn't rule out seeking help at center – or elsewhere on the roster, for that matter – from a player or players not yet on the Patriots roster.
"If there's a way you think you can improve your team, you consider it," Belichick said, stressing that such a move would be more likely earlier in the season than later because more quality is available at this point in the year.
"Today is no different than any other day," Caserio insisted, presumably aside from the fact that New England's starting center is temporarily indisposed.
Already thin at o-line heading into last night's game, the Patriots were forced to activate one of their three practice squad offensive linemen, second-year player Thomas Welch, prior to kickoff to provide needed depth, as New England was also without the services of interior lineman Ryan Wendell, who was deactivated from the game-time 46-man roster. ESPNBoston.com just reported, however, that Welch has been released. The team has not yet confirmed this.
Connolly had been rotating at right guard with newcomer Brian Waters, but when Koppen was injured, Connolly immediately jumped in and played there the rest of the night, with Waters staying at guard. This wasn't the first time Connolly has spelled Koppen in a regular season game, though the last time he did so for any significant stretch was two seasons ago, coincidentally also against the Dolphins in a game in Foxborough. Koppen was able to return the following week, however, at Indianapolis.
Wendell, meanwhile, who was out of action most of the preseason due to an injury of his own, returned to practice last week, so, it's conceivable he could be active as interior depth this week against San Diego.
As it stands here late on Tuesday, the Patriots' only other current options are on their practice squad, although Nick McDonald and Matt Kopa, both second-year players, have only been with this team for less than two weeks.
Caserio wouldn't elaborate on what he felt the market offered right now in terms of experienced interior offensive linemen. However, if you choose to read between any lines (pun intended), he did offer praise for Connolly and the current roster of Patriots linemen, as well as their position coach, Dante Scarnecchia, to get the job done no matter the obstacles.
"All those guys, Dante really rotates them through at multiple positions. Everybody takes snaps at every position. So, everyone gets experience at practice and some get a little more in the games, whether it's in preseason or actual [regular season] game performance.
"Dan's a versatile player," continued Caserio, "he's smart, he can handle a number of different things. All our offensive linemen … those attributes are similar across the board."