Wes Welker is probably the only person who Wes Welker can't impress anymore. When Welker participated in his first on-field practice June 2 in Foxboro, his teammates and coaching staff just seemed to shake their heads in amazement as he breezed through a half-hour of drills. So, after his left knee injury, how effective will Welker be on the field in 2010?
Welker participated in seven of the Patriots' 12 organized team activities (OTAs) and three minicamp sessions (the first four sessions were strictly for young players, so Welker wasn’t asked to practice). During each non-contact practice, Welker stretched with the team and broke off into positional drills for about 30 minutes before departing to work out on his own in the practice bubble.
He wore a brace on his left knee — Welker said he didn’t want to wear the brace during the season, but wasn’t yet sure if he'd have to or not — and made hard, quick, decisive cuts in passing routes as if he never tore a ligament at all.
The most positive sign occurred June 10 when the Patriots conducted their 11th OTA. It was a soggy, chilly day at Gillette Stadium, and the field was still wet from an earlier rainstorm. Even still, Welker participated in his usual routine, demonstrating that the medical staff had enough confidence in his knee to hold up in those slick conditions. If the Patriots had any reservations at all, there's no chance Welker would have participated in that session.
Not bad for a guy four months removed from surgery.
Welker had famously been an underdog throughout the majority of his NFL career. He was undrafted out of Texas Tech, cut by the Chargers in 2004 and eventually emerged as one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.
This comeback, in all likelihood, is Welker's biggest challenge to date, and he's already way ahead of schedule. Because of this, he might bear unfair expectations in 2010, so it's best to stay cautiously optimistic when monitoring his progress.
Quarterback Tom Brady, whose left knee injury was believed to be far more severe, was clearly hampered while returning in 2009, but expectations were high due to his pedigree. Welker's injury happened five months later in the season than Brady's, so the wide receiver has less time to recoup than his quarterback once had.
The toughest test of Welker's recovery is still weeks away. The intensity at training camp will be much greater than at OTAs and minicamp — especially during the first four days of double sessions — and there will also be contact at practice. Then, the intensity will heat up even more when the Patriots hold joint sessions with the Saints and Falcons. How Welker's knee holds up after these sessions will be the best barometer of his recovery, and it's an almost-certainty that he'll be given time off during training camp.
Welker is as tough and resilient as anyone in the league, and no one counted him out after the knee injury. But just because he's ahead of schedule doesn't mean it's realistic to think he'll step right in and morph into his 100-reception form.
That might have to wait a few extra weeks, which is already remarkable enough.
NESN.com will be answering one Patriots question every day until July 24.
Wednesday, July 14: How will Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman change the dynamics of the offense?
Friday, July 16: What can the Patriots expect from Jerod Mayo?
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