Welker is back for the Patriots

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / August 2, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — Another day of Patriots training camp, another news story yesterday, though this one was welcomed. Wide receiver Wes Welker, less than six months removed from having reconstructive surgery on his left knee, was taken off the physically unable to perform list, and practiced with his teammates.

The 5-foot-9-inch All-Pro tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in the knee Jan. 3 against Houston, and underwent surgery four weeks later. In March, it was discovered that he also underwent surgery for a torn rotator cuff.

Despite that — though perhaps not surprisingly given Welker’s history of beating the odds — there he was yesterday in full pads. Welker did positional drills and some route-running work, but when it was time for 11-on-11 contact, he did not participate. During the morning, he worked with trainer Joe Van Allen, as he did prior days of camp. Van Allen tethered him self to Welker with a bungee cord as Welker worked on getting off the line; the resistance is aimed to help the wideout regain his explosiveness.

Surrounded by media after the early practice, Welker declared that he was not yet 100 percent, but nonetheless he was happy to have taken this important step.

“It feels good. It doesn’t feel like I ever left it,’’ he said. “It feels good out there. It feels good to get out there with the teammates and do some things.’’

Director of player personnel Nick Caserio revealed at the start of a pre-practice news conference that Welker would be removed from the PUP list.

“He passed the physical, so it means he’s deemed ready to go by our training staff and the doctors,’’ Caserio said. “He’s ready to go now. He’s deemed physically ready to go based on the tests and what our trainers have decided, so he’ll be out there.’’

If there were a playoff game next weekend, Welker would be able to play, but his schedule has been centered around getting him ready for the Sept. 12 regular-season opener against Cincinnati.

So although Welker could have participated in contact drills, the thinking is there’s no reason to push him too hard just yet.

“That’s up to the doctors and the coaches, seeing when I get out there with the team in full drills and things like that,’’ Welker said, when asked about his limited participation. “Whenever they think that it’s ready, I’ll be out there.’’

On the opening day of camp, coach Bill Belichick said it is the last 10-20 percent that is the hardest for a player to recover off an injury like Welker’s.

“For me, it’s going out and doing my job every single play and making sure that I’m getting ‘plusses’ on it on every play I’m out there,’’ said Welker. “As long as I’m getting the job done and making things happen out there, I’m going to be happy with myself. If not, then I still have work to do.’’

There is, of course, rust. During morning one-on-one work, Welker couldn’t pull in a pass from Tom Brady and yelled, aggravated with himself, booting the ball a good 20 yards.

Welker didn’t know when he would stop wearing the bulky brace familiar to those who have torn their ACL. He also wouldn’t say whether six months was his target date to return to practice.

As he walked onto the field in the morning, the crowd roared. The cheers kept coming throughout the day, with Welker at one point egging on fans in the afternoon. Perhaps as a sign of gratitude, he ran over to the bleachers to sign autographs in the evening, joining the linebackers, whose turn it was in the rotation.

He is appreciative of the cheers. “It definitely adds a little bit of motivation to make sure you are looking nice out there,’’ he said.

The six months have been long for Welker, and now there are only a few hurdles to clear.

“The knee feels great and the shoulder feels great,’’ he declared. “It’s just a matter of teaching the muscles, ‘Hey, this is how you are supposed to move. You are supposed to get out of your breaks like this. You are supposed to be able to explode out like this.’ And really, [it’s about] kind of getting them back in that shape.’’

Welker is a hard-working teacher, and it seems his muscles are listening.

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