FOXBORO, Mass. — Wes Welker exchanged his parachute for a pair of shoulder pads Sunday, and the Patriots wide receiver participated in his first training camp practice.
Welker, who has worked out on the sideline during the first three days of training camp, was activated from the physically unable to perform list, and he practiced Sunday for an hour and 45 minutes. Even though Welker didn?t wear the red jersey — which meant he has been cleared to take on contact at practice — he didn?t participate in 11-on-11 drills that feature the most hitting.
Instead, he broke away to the other field and worked on the passing tree with quarterback Tom Brady or his conditioning with the team's trainers.
"It was great," Welker said. "Obviously, I was just happy to get out there and get to play and be out there with my teammates. That's always been my goal. I'm just happy for today to finally get here. You always think it's quick, but it seemed like a long time to me."
Welker appeared to be running at full speed when he worked one-on-one with Brady, but the wide receiver sounded gassed after running the last couple of routes. He was making hard, precise cuts in each of his drills and also worked on blocking techniques with the other receivers.
Welker, however, said he's still not 100 percent.
"No, we're not there yet, but every day, we're a little bit closer," Welker said. "Slowly but surely, we're making progress."
Welker said he "would like to" play in the season opener Sept. 12 against Cincinnati, but he also mentioned that decision isn?t entirely up to him. He's even looking forward to getting whacked around on the field, whenever that moment happens to present itself.
"That?s going to happen eventually," said Welker, who addressed the media for nearly 10 minutes after practice. "You want to make sure you're ready at some point, and whether I get contact later on in the season or early on or whenever, it's going to happen at some point so you've got to be ready for it. You've got to make sure your whole body is ready for it."
In order to get to 100 percent, Welker said he needs to have more explosion coming off the ball, and he said his cuts still aren?t where he wanted them to be. At one point, Welker showed some frustration after dropping a pass during his individual session with Brady, and the shifty wideout showcased his nifty soccer skills by booting the ball toward the other field.
Welker rebounded by hauling in a handful of long passes during the rest of the session, but it was a clear sign that this isn?t an overnight recovery process. The muscle memory will return in time, and Welker is progressively improving, which is a stunning indication that he's at least partly human.
?Whether you were hurt or not, when you haven?t played any sort of football for six months and you just come out there and try and do it, there?s going to be some mishaps here," Welker said. "You?re not going to be all there. You?re going to be a little bit rusty so you have to knock that rust of to make sure you?re going to come back the way you need to.
"If I thought I was favoring it, or anything like that, I probably wouldn't be out here. It's feeling good so far. We're trying to get that muscle memory back of making those quick moves and get that stuff back.''