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Patriots notebook

Welker back at practice

Details on status remain scarce

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / August 19, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - Wide receiver Wes Welker was back at practice yesterday but wouldn’t tip his or the team’s hand on whether he’ll make his preseason debut tomorrow when the Patriots host the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium.

Welker was on the sideline in street clothes last Thursday, when the Patriots defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-25. He did not practice Sunday or Monday but participated in yesterday’s morning walkthrough, catching passes, before returning to practice in the afternoon. The practice was held in shorts and light shoulder pads.

“I feel good,’’ said Welker, who didn’t shed any light on his absence. “[I’m] excited to be out here and hanging with my teammates and going through a walkthrough and getting ready.’’

Asked whether he would play tomorrow, Welker said that would be a better question for Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Belichick said that decision would be made last night.

Welker made it clear he wants to play.

“Of course I want to play,’’ he said. “I think anybody who likes to compete likes to get out and play.’’

When Welker was back at practice yesterday, he was fielding punts - he has been the team’s primary punt returner the last two seasons. That is a job that could be taken off his plate by the emergence of Julian Edelman, who returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown against the Eagles.

“Obviously, he has done a great job and been working his tail off and really just trying to understand the offense,’’ said Welker. “He has done a great job stepping up and playing well for us.’’

Back home again
A San Francisco Bay area native, Tully Banta-Cain left the Patriots following the 2006 season to play for the 49ers, but he is glad to be back in New England, where he spent the first four seasons of his career.

“The grass definitely isn’t greener on the other side,’’ said Banta-Cain. “I did get a chance to go home and play in San Francisco, but this feels like the real home to me.’’

Banta-Cain has been part of the Patriots’ move to more 4-3 defenses as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker. He came up with a sack last Thursday to snuff out an Eagles drive.

Belichick said the focus has been narrowed for Banta-Cain since his first go-around with the Patriots, when he was a traditional 3-4 outside linebacker.

“[I’m] not saying he won’t have a lot of roles,’’ said Belichick. “But we’ve prioritized those for him and I think that’s probably enabled him to concentrate more on a few things and really get better at them as opposed to having a wide variety of responsibilities and maybe not being able to excel in any one of them.

“He’s definitely spent a lot of time on pass-rush drills and technique and protections and all those type of things. I think that that is a strength of his game, rushing the passer, and that will certainly be a big part of his responsibilities.’’

Going to the gap
Defensive end Richard Seymour weighed in on the team’s use of the 4-3 and pointed out that while the alignments might change, the techniques do not.

“Sometimes we’ll two-gap, when playing a 4-3 front as well,’’ he said. “Some teams have different philosophies, where it’s a one-gap defense, but we still two-gap and everybody is responsible for two gaps.’’

One version of the 4-3 the Patriots used against the Eagles had Seymour and Ty Warren at the defensive ends with combinations of Vince Wilfork and rookies Ron Brace and Myron Pyror as the defensive tackles. Another had Seymour among the interior defensive linemen, with Derrick Burgess and Banta-Cain as rush ends.

Seymour, who led the team in sacks last season with a career-high eight, said the 4-3 doesn’t necessarily free him up to rush the passer more.

“It depends on what we’re executing,’’ he said. “It isn’t always about sacks, [that] can be overrated. It’s about getting pressure on the passer, taking care of your responsibilities first. There’s a time and a place for everything. If it calls for us to penetrate, get in the backfield, then that’s what we’ll do.’’

Going got tough
Yesterday was the last day of training camp that was open to the public, and Belichick said the team, which will hold a walkthrough today, will begin the transition to a regular-season-like schedule. Although Belichick balked when a reporter said it was the last day of training camp, it was the last day of the grueling portion of camp that had the Patriots often practicing twice a day in full pads.

Since the start of camp July 30, the team has had 28 sessions, including the walkthrough before playing Philadelphia, and was in full pads for 18 of them.

“It’s been a tough one,’’ said center Dan Koppen. “There’s no doubt about it. Since I’ve been here, it’s definitely been the toughest one. Bill told us early on to get ready for it and he usually doesn’t lie to us. He was pretty honest.’’

Koppen said the players understand there is more work to be done. “Just because you break camp doesn’t mean that the camp mentality is over with,’’ he said. “We still got a lot of work to do and a lot of getting better to do.’’

Safety is added
The Patriots signed safety Roderick Rogers, who was on the field for the afternoon session, wearing No. 43. He batted a deep ball away from Randy Moss but later was victimized by Moss on a deep route. The 6-foot-2-inch, 187-pound Rogers originally was signed by the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin in 2007. He was on the Broncos’ practice squad before joining the 53-man roster for the final two games of the season. In 2008, Rogers played three games for Denver and made one start. The team waived Rogers last November and he finished the season on the Minnesota Vikings practice squad. Minnesota released him June 1 . . . Running back Sammy Morris, linebacker Paris Lenon, offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, and defensive lineman Mike Wright were among the players who did not practice yesterday . . . Belichick started his news conference by saluting Patriots Hall of Fame inductees Billy Sullivan and Jim Nance. Both will be inducted posthumously in a ceremony outside the Hall at Patriot Place at 4 p.m. tomorrow. Sullivan founded the Patriots in 1959. Nance, whom Belichick called the “prototype fullback,’’ was the 1966 American Football League MVP and is still the team’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (45) . . . Before the afternoon practice, players sang “Happy Birthday’’ to linebacker Adalius Thomas, who turned 32 yesterday.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com. Chris Forsberg of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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