Sixth in a series of positional reviews from the Patriots’ 2009 season:
Centers/guards: Dan Koppen (C), Logan Mankins (LG), Stephen Neal (RG), Dan Connolly (C/G), Ryan Wendell (C/G), Rich Ohrnberger (C/G)
Stat check: Koppen started all 16 games, as did Mankins. An ankle injury sidelined Neal for four games, with Connolly stepping in.
First instinct: Too many penalties. Mankins led the team with eight, while Neal was third on the club with six, and Koppen fourth on the team with five.
Storyline not be overlooked: Mankins, a two-time Pro Bowler, has started every game since he was selected in the first round of the 2005 draft. He’s one of the top guards in the NFL, and represents one of the team's best draft hits in recent years.
Future: Neal, whose contract expires, said that he is considering retirement. Mankins will be a restricted free agent in a season without a salary cap and the Patriots project to tender him at the highest level to retain him. Koppen is signed through 2011 and scheduled to earn $2.9 million, so his situation bears watching with three developing younger players in Connolly, Wendell and Ohrnberger.
Final thought: The right guard position, where Neal has been solid when healthy, figures to have a different look, likely with Connolly. The Patriots value athleticism at guard as they like to pull them, and Connolly -- who has played power fullback -- fits the bill. They are also high on Wendell and Ohrnberger, who could push Koppen at center. Koppen has been challenged by some of the bigger nose tackles in the division.
POSITIONAL QUICK HITS