FOXBOROUGH — If you were looking for an explanation as to why receiver Wes Welker has seemingly been moved a step back on the Patriots depth chart behind Julian Edelman, you weren’t going to find it Monday.
One day after the sixth-year Patriot started the game on the bench for the second straight week — a rarity in his in New England tenure — neither Welker, Edelman, nor coach Bill Belichick was offering much of an explanation.
Against Arizona, Welker, who entered the game tied with Troy Brown as the franchise leader in receptions, did not step onto the field until after Aaron Hernandez’s ankle injury, which happened on the third offensive play.
He wound up playing in 63 of 82 snaps (77 percent), while Edelman played in 75 of 82 (91 percent). Brandon Lloyd was on the field for every snap, while Rob Gronkowski was part of all but one.
In the season opener against Tennessee, Welker played 42 of 67 snaps (63 percent), Edelman 23 of 67 (34 percent).
Last season, Welker played in all 16 games and played 88 percent of the 1,161 snaps on offense; Edelman played in 120 snaps total in 12 regular-season games.
Welker said Sunday he is not hampered by injury and that naturally he’d like to be on the field.
During an interview on WEEI Monday, Welker was asked about not starting and said he really didn’t know before kickoff what the plan was.
“I really wasn’t positive even leading up to the first series. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” he said. “I just go out there, and whenever my number’s called, I go out and play. Coaches coach, players play. That’s all I can do.”
Welker did say, however, that there was “a little bit” of an indication that Edelman would start as the game got closer. He noted that he did get to play quite a bit in the game against the Cardinals.
Left unsaid, and what isn’t known, is just how much Welker would have played had Hernandez not been knocked out of the game.
Welker also intimated that perhaps he was a bit behind after leaving the team for a couple of days to attend a funeral back home in Oklahoma. Belichick pled ignorance when asked if that is contributing to a decrease in playing time.
“You’d have to ask him about that, I don’t know,” Belichick said. “Wes has a lot of experience around here. I think he’s one of our smartest and obviously most experienced players. I don’t really see him behind.”
If Welker isn’t behind and is one of the Patriots’ smartest players, then why is Edelman seeing the field ahead of him?
“I’m sure you’ve seen us play before.’’ said Belichick. “We have different combinations of personnel groups out there in every game, all the time, pretty much every week. That’s pretty much the way we run our offense and we have for quite a while.
“The players that we have out there are the ones that we feel are best for that particular play, situation, however you want to look at it. That’s the way we set up the plays, the offense, when they’re called then we put that group out there. Whatever is out there is what we feel is best for our team for that time, for that play, for that situation.”
Edelman, who did have a strong training camp and was expected to see a bigger role on offense after playing on both sides of the ball down the stretch last season, is in a difficult spot — he is getting playing time at the expense of the league’s most productive receiver over the last five years, but as someone who is slated to be a free agent at the end of this season, he needs to show what he can do.
“You know what? I just go into the game doing whatever the coaches ask me to do,” Edelman said. “I prepare each and every day like I’m going to be playing, and if my number is called, my number is called.”
When asked if he senses that his role has changed, he replied, “I’ve gotten a little more clock, so . . . have you [noticed a change]? Couple more snaps.”
There is a reason why a healthy Welker, who played in more than three-quarters of the snaps in 2010, when he was just months removed from ACL surgery, and 88 percent of the snaps last year, isn’t seeing the field, but no one is sharing right now.