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Welker not getting caught up

WR: Fast return is not a big deal

Wearing a brace on his injured left knee, receiver Wes Welker is feeling better but not ready to predict when he’ll be able to play. Wearing a brace on his injured left knee, receiver Wes Welker is feeling better but not ready to predict when he’ll be able to play. (Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / June 8, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — It might have been surprising to see Wes Welker on the field last week doing drills just four months after ACL surgery, but Welker doesn’t understand what the fuss is about.

The recovering wideout spoke to reporters briefly yesterday after the Patriots’ first of four on-field organized team activities. He spent about 20 minutes stretching, going through agility drills and some position-specific work with teammates before retreating to the Dana-Farber Field House for an hour.

Welker’s appearance in uniform last week created quite the buzz because it was viewed as an incredibly encouraging sign. Estimates for his return to the field had ranged from an optimistic start of the regular season to a more cautious mid-November.

Just don’t expect Welker to feed into the frenzy.

“I didn’t think it’d be that big a deal,’’ he said. “I’ve been pushing it and trying to get ready and get out there with my teammates, get a few reps and try and get better as much as we can.’’

The 29-year-old All-Pro underwent surgery Feb. 2, about a month after suffering a left knee injury in the Patriots’ regular-season finale in Houston. The time allowed his MCL to heal first.

Welker has been repeatedly asked over the last few weeks about when he expects to fully return to practice and games, but he has not given an answer.

Yesterday was no different.

“I want to get back as early as possible, and whenever that is, is when it is,’’ he said when asked if playing in the regular-season opener Sept. 12 is his aim.

“And my goal is just working hard and getting back with my teammates as early as possible.

“I feel good. Just trying to work hard and from day to day just get better. That’s been my plan from the get-go. I’m sticking to that plan. I don’t know what my expectations were. My main goal is just going out, working hard every day and making sure that I get ready and push myself every day and get back as early as possible.’’

During drills in view of the media, Welker has worn the bulky black knee brace to support his joint. Though yesterday he said he wasn’t sure if he’ll wear it once he’s been cleared to play, a source with knowledge of Welker’s situation told the Globe last week he will not play with the brace.

Though he’s recorded more catches than any NFL player over the last three seasons, Welker wouldn’t put a lot of expectations on himself for this season.

“I visualize myself going out there and helping the team as much as possible,’’ he said. “Whatever that is, is what it is and whatever the coaches want me to do, that’s where I’m going to be. And that’s all I can do right now.’’

Promising young receiver Brandon Tate, whom the Patriots drafted last year while he was rehabbing from ACL surgery, can relate to Welker’s situation. Though he has navigated a similar path, even Tate is surprised at Welker’s progress.

“Yeah, I was. I really was. But anything can happen,’’ said Tate. “He’s going to keep on working hard and I’m going to keep on supporting him as a teammate. It lets me know that Wes is a warrior.’’

For Tate, rehab is about work ethic and how badly the player wants to get back to normal.

That in a nutshell could explain why Welker is surpassing others’ expectations — he has done so his entire football life.

Albert R. Breer of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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