FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Wes Welker has taken as much of a beating as anyone on the New England Patriots over the last two seasons.
But every time Welker got whacked, he’d peel himself off the turf, adjust his pads and motor on back to the huddle. It was as routine as things could get for the Patriots.
With that said, it’s been surprising to see Welker in such a limited capacity throughout training camp and the preseason. He has missed a string of practices, along with two of the Patriots’ three exhibition games, due to an undisclosed injury. Because starters hardly ever play in the team’s preseason finale, it’s also unlikely Welker will suit up Thursday night against the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium.
“I’m working hard to get back [to the field] as soon as I can,” Welker said. “Every day you can get back out there and get reps in is big. It’s a good time to sharpen up and get ready for the season.”
Welker has been a visible presence in the locker room over the last couple of weeks, and he has appeared to move around fine without showing any signs of discomfort (duly noted: a locker room and an NFL gridiron are two vastly different animals). He hasn’t been wearing any protective sleeves or braces, adding to the mystery of his condition.
Because of that, it’s highly unlikely Welker is battling anything serious. The Patriots could be practicing extra caution in his case, as he is certain to take a beating once again when the regular season rolls around in two weekends.
After all, slot receivers expose themselves to more danger on the field than any other offensive skill position player, and Welker has caught a league-high 223 passes over the last two seasons, furthering the hits he has taken.
“It’s a physical game,” Welker said. “You’ve got to take some hits some times, and that’s the way it goes. You’ve just got to get ready for the next time and make sure you’re doing the things that have you a little bit more ready for that type of situation next time.”
Welker admitted his timing will suffer due to missing practice reps, and that is an important aspect of the Patriots’ passing attack. Even if Welker misses Thursday’s preseason game, the Pats have a full week’s worth of practices leading up to their regular-season opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 14, which should give him enough time to get on the same page with quarterback Tom Brady.
“Well, it’s the best thing — for every player and for the team — for everybody to be out there doing what they can do,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said, speaking in a general sense. “When they can’t do that, then they do what they can do and try to get back out there as soon as they can. Practice repetitions are important for everybody. Unfortunately, we don’t have everybody out there all the time, even though we would like to and even though they want to be out there. That’s just the reality of it, so we work around it and do the best we can when that’s the case.”
Welker is one of the most diligent workers on the team, and he said he’s doing everything in his power to remain up to speed in the film room.
“Definitely, being very attentive in meetings, and making sure that I’m watching the film, and understanding how I would do something, or how we can improve and seeing the different defenses,” Welker said. “I make sure I’m getting a mental rep as I watch it out there on film.”
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