– By Rich Kurtzman
Following their 31-19 win on Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Denver Broncos took Monday-Wednesday off. On Thursday, they re-took the practice field at Dove Valley, and a new face was there to greet them.
Veteran center Dan Koppen, formerly of the New England Patriots, was signed by the Broncos on Monday. After starting for three years at Boston College, Koppen was drafted in the fifth round of the 2003 NFL Draft by New England and enjoyed his first two years with the team.
Koppen started 15 games his rookie year and all 16 his second season, earning back-to-back Super Bowls with the Patriots. He helped them get to another one in 2007 by not allowing a single sack that season, and was named to his first and only Pro Bowl in 2008. He played so well in his tenure there, Koppen was named to the Patriots 2000s All-Decade team in 2010.
But his career hasn’t been without injuries; the 33-year old missed seven games in 2005 with an injured shoulder and after fracturing his ankle in Week 1 last year, was placed on injured reserve. It means the center hasn’t played in nearly a year, and he comes into Denver as the backup to third-year man J.D. Walton.
Walton’s started all 33 games he’s been with the Broncos, and the team said he would continue to start despite Koppen’s signing. Some find faults in Walton’s game, while others believe he’s a worthy starter in the NFL. Koppen is undoubtedly a top-notch starting center—at least he was one year ago—and while he’ll be a solid addition depth-wise, he may challenge for the starting job soon.
Speaking of the offensive line, Chris Kuper continues to sit out of practice after fracturing his forearm on August 24 and still looks to be 2-3 weeks away from playing again. Kuper is the most veteran player on the Broncos’ young offensive line, and he was named a captain before the season began. In his place at right guard is six-year, career backup Manny Ramirez, who played well in his first game.
Joining him on the sideline was nickel cornerback Chris Harris. Harris sprained an ankle in the fourth quarter of the Steelers game, but stayed in to finish the contest. The second-year man was wearing a boot around the Broncos practice facility and it’s unknown whether or not he’ll be able to play this Monday night against Atlanta.
The Falcons have a strong receiving corps, including Julio Jones, Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez. Jones scored two touchdowns last Sunday in Atlanta’s 40-24 blowout over the Chiefs, while Gonzalez scored one of his own.
If Harris indeed can’t play, either Omar Bolden or Tony Carter will be asked to fill in during nickel situations.
Even if Harris can play, this game will prove to be a tough test for the Denver defense with all the weapons the Falcons possess.
Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.