FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Few players exemplified consistency and reliability during their time with the Patriots more than former center Dan Koppen, who after earning the starting job as a rookie in 2003 held on to the gig until an ankle injury during Week 1 of the 2011 forced him on to the injured reserve list.
During this past training camp, Koppen was a part of a competition at the center spot that was eventually won by Ryan Wendell, who has played every offensive snap through eight games this season.
Wendell's performance drew the praise of his position coach, Dante Scarnecchia, who was asked if Wendell has done an excellent job of stepping in to replace Koppen.
"I think he has. Clearly the obvious is that he replaced a very, very good football player and a very popular football player," Scarnecchia said. "That's as tough of a decision as we've ever had around here for those reasons.
"But we also knew that this is a young guy that has played very well when we've asked him to play and he's done a very good job through the first eight games of the season, and he's all the things we thought he would be," he continued. "He's very tough, very smart, and a really competitive guy on every down, through every down. He's a great finisher and that's why he's here, and that's why we kept him as a rookie and kept him around here and that's why this kid is on our roster, and that's why he's starting for us, all those reasons."
And while Scarnecchia said he and the coaches are pleased with Wendell's performance, he suggested Wendell would probably cite room for self-improvement.
"We're pleased with the way things have gone there, and yet if you ask him, I'm sure he would say he's probably got a lot of work to do and he could play better in a lot of situations," he said. "He's a great kid. I'm glad we got him."
Wendell is one of two new starters along the offensive line this season -- second-year left tackle Nate Solder is the other.
Scarnecchia discussed Solder's development, and noted that the 24-year-old is also targeting improvement.
"He's just like all the other guys and all the other starters," Scarnecchia said of Solder. "We have expectations of him. He plays a critical position because it's the left tackle position and those guys are always, those guys always have a tough challenge. But they all have tough jobs. There's good players in this league at all positions. Is Nate satisfied? No. I think that every day he wants to do better and get better and he always has challenges, he's going to be challenged next week [against Buffalo]."