ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — First off, Peyton Manning says he's sick over losing center J.D. Walton to a broken ankle that ended his season.
That said, he's glad to have a backup stepping in who's as accomplished as Dan Koppen, who spent his first nine seasons in New England snapping for another great quarterback.
While everybody else was focused on his arm strength upon his arrival in Denver seven months ago after he missed the entire 2011 season, the biggest thing on Manning's mind was working with his new snapper.
So, he and Walton spent endless hours practicing on local high school football fields before they could work out at the Broncos' headquarters.
"That's probably the first thing I did when I got here, was getting snaps with J.D. The quarterback-center exchange is vital, and so I'm sick about his injury," Manning said Wednesday. "When you lose a starting center who has started every game for the past three years, it's very rare that you can replace him with a veteran like Dan who has played in many huge games and is experienced. So we feel fortunate to have him and it's always nice having a veteran player who's been around winning for his entire career on your team."
Indeed, the Broncos didn't miss a beat Sunday when Koppen came in just before halftime and played the rest of the way as Denver outscored Oakland 27-0 in the second half of its 37-6 rout of the Raiders. He helped Manning record his first sackless day as a Bronco and his second straight 300-yard passing game.
Walton, who had missed only one offensive snap in his career, out of 2,269 possible plays, got hurt when defensive end Jack Crawford inadvertently crashed into his legs as he was making the tackle on running back Lance Ball.
Walton didn't speak with reporters Wednesday when he walked through the locker room on crutches with his left leg in a protective boot.
Koppen signed with the Broncos three weeks ago after spending his entire career in New England, where he'll make his first start Sunday in a pivotal matchup of 2-2 teams with high hopes that can ill afford another stumble.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said it'll be weird seeing Koppen snapping the ball to Manning.
"Being one of my best friends over the years, to see him go was a very hard thing," Brady said. "But I was happy he really got the opportunity to be with a great organization and to play with a quarterback like Peyton and certainly with an offense like that, I'm sure Dan's a great fit."