He’s willing — not Welker
Edelman works on his own game
FOXBOROUGH — Julian Edelman knows what you’re thinking. And he’s had enough.
It’s not that the second-year receiver doesn’t find the comparisons with Patriots All-Pro Wes Welker flattering. He does.
In fact, it’s the respect he has for Welker that makes him want to put this one to bed.
After reconstructive knee surgery, Welker’s availability for the early part of the 2010 season is iffy, and the presumption is that Edelman could play the Role of Wes while the real thing heals. But to expect Edelman to be Welker? He’d rather just be Julian.
“I am not replacing Wes,’’ said Edelman, who turns 24 tomorrow. “I have been hearing it so much I let it go in one ear and out the other. I am just a guy trying to earn a job. It is unfair to Wes.’’
That Edelman likely has a job sewn up already is a testament to how far he’s come, whether he can approximate Welker’s production or not.
The Kent State product began last year as a projection — having played as a quarterback in a spread-option system in college — and ended it as a bona fide NFL receiver. And the kid who started as a seventh-round flyer became a must-have for New England.
He finished the season 11th among rookies with 37 catches, and 13th among NFL neophytes with 359 yards.
“All you can do is be confident in your abilities,’’ Edelman said. “Athletically, I felt like it was something I could do. I have a long way to go. I’m still learning the receiver position.’’
More important than his standing among peers was his presence in the most dire of straits. When Welker went down in the regular-season finale in Houston, Edelman caught 10 balls for 103 yards in his place, and followed that up with six catches for 44 yards and two touchdowns in the first round of the playoffs.
Add those two contests to the two earlier in the season that Welker missed, and Edelman’s four-game numbers were pretty respectable: 27 catches, 265 yards, 2 touchdowns.
Conversely, it’s worth noting that the Patriots went 1-3 in those contests, and clearly missed Welker.
Where Welker is a complete receiver, Edelman is more of a specialist. A big part of his production came with the offensive staff utilizing his ability in space on screens and clear-out patterns.
In some ways, his experience as a quarterback eased the transition to the pros outside of that comfort zone. In others, his lack of experience at receiver hurt him. The idea now is to accentuate the former and continue to make up for the latter, as he becomes more natural at his position.
“I’m still trying to become a receiver, I’m still trying to transition,’’ Edelman said. “It hasn’t come quite yet. [Experience as a quarterback] definitely has helped; it kind of hurt me in a way, too, though, when I had to hear the play instead of saying the play. That was always a little difficult in the very beginning.
“But seeing coverages and watching film, it’s helped. I have a pretty decent knowledge of the game because of playing the position of quarterback.
“For me, it’s all about learning the receiver position, once again. The details of how to get open and how to read coverages, that’s what I’ve been focusing on.’’
While Edelman says he’s gotten a little quicker and maintained the 198-pound frame he arrived with, it’s the mental part of the game he’s focusing on now.
He has spent the offseason evaluating his own play on film, and also looking at others — yes, Welker is one guy he’s studying — to find things to incorporate in his game. Edelman said it does help that he’s secure enough to not go out of his way to impress coaches, as a job-hunting seventh-round pick normally would.
One more time, he reiterated on the Welker comparison that, “he’s him and I’m me.’’ But he’s also aware that, if Welker is still sidelined come September, he could well be the one charged with picking up the slack.
For now, though, he can’t waste time thinking about how he’ll handle it.
“We’ll be thinking of that more down the line,’’ Edelman said. “I’m just thinking about trying to become a receiver.
“When that Game 1 or whatever comes, we’ll think about that. I’m thinking about OTAs and training camp right now.’’