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Welker an inspiration to teammates

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By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / December 31, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — Wes Welker doesn’t talk about his knee much anymore. For the last few weeks, the Patriots receiver has talked about football, but any issues with his knee seem to be in the past.

In the final game of the 2009 regular season, Welker tore ligaments in his left knee, ending his season. He wasn’t expected to return until the 2010 season but he was back in time for training camp and started the opener. With each week, talk about Welker’s knee became less of an issue — until yesterday.

“This is the first time I think I’ve heard about it since — I don’t know — it’s been a long time, so thanks for rehashing this memory,’’ Welker said. “But I’m just happy to be back out there and excited about this week and practicing and getting better and getting ready for Miami.’’

Welker returned in a way that prompted his teammates to honor him with the Ed Block Courage Award, given annually to NFL players who best exemplify the principles of courage and sportsmanship while also serving as a source of inspiration. Each team in the NFL selects an honoree, and the players will be honored at a banquet in Baltimore March 8.

“Being able to come back from the offseason that I had and last season, the way it ended, it was definitely an honor and I’m definitely happy to have my name on the Ed Block Courage Award,’’ Welker said. “I think it was kind of by default, in a way, just because of the circumstances, and I was really the only one who was hurt this offseason and things like that. But it’s definitely an honor to be in the same breath as him.’’

While the result of Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Dolphins will not affect the playoff race, Welker said he wants to play.

“This is what I get paid to do and I love playing,’’ Welker said. “No matter what is at stake or what the deal is, I want to play.

“I know people are probably thinking differently about that. I don’t worry about other stuff. Whatever coach [Bill] Belichick decides for me, that’s what I’m going to do.’’

Your money back Safety Brandon Meriweather gets a little money back in his pocket after being issued a hefty fine earlier this season for a flagrant hit on Ravens tight end Todd Heap. Meriweather’s $50,000 fine was reduced to $40,000 after an appeal, according to the New York Times. In October, Meriweather, Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson, and Steelers linebacker James Harrison were fined for helmet-to-helmet hits. The league was making examples of the three, issuing stiffer penalties for helmet-to-helmet hits. Robinson’s and Harrison’s fines also were reduced, Robinson’s from $50,000 to $25,000 and Harrison’s from $75,000 to $50,000.

Filling in gaps Ryan Wendell is the latest offensive lineman to be moved into the Patriots rotation. Against the Bills last week, Wendell had his first career start, filling in at right guard for Dan Connolly, who was out with a concussion.

Wendell signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and was on the practice squad throughout his rookie season. Last season, he spent time on the practice squad and the 53-man roster.

Wendell said he would leave the assessment of his play up to the coaches, and he isn’t interested in being in the spotlight.

“Offensive linemen don’t want anybody to know who they are anyway, so it’s not a bad deal,’’ he said.

Wendell has played in 14 games, the most of his career. He said one benefit in filling in gaps on the offensive line is the chemistry the group develops throughout the season.

“I think it’s real important for the line to jell,’’ he said. “We have five guys who all have to work together, and I think we’ve done a good job.’’

Injury report Neither Connolly nor defensive lineman Mike Wright had been cleared to practice because of the effects of concussions. Connolly has been out since getting hurt against the Packers two weeks ago, while Wright has not played since Nov. 21 against the Colts. Defensive lineman Ron Brace (elbow) also did not practice for the second straight day. Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain was limited because of a groin injury, a day after he missed practice with the flu. Tom Brady (right shoulder/foot), wide receiver Deion Branch (knee), linebacker Jermaine Cunningham (calf), tight end Aaron Hernandez (hip), and defensive lineman Myron Pryor (back) all were limited. For the Dolphins, linebacker Karlos Dansby (toe), tight end Anthony Fasano (knee), and tight end Lydon Murtha (head) did not practice. Cornerback Nolan Carroll (head) was limited.

Happy return Connolly may be more focused on shaking his concussion these days, but his 71-yard kickoff return against the Packers continues to spark a laugh or two. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, a former offensive line coach, shared a couple of laughs with the media yesterday when asked about it. “You can only imagine what the guy is thinking while he’s running with the ball,’’ said Sparano. “I’m not sure whether or not he’s thinking, ‘I got a chance to score’ or ‘Somebody please get me on the ground.’ ’’ If Connolly gets to play Sunday, will the Dolphins kick to him? “I’m kicking away from him,’’ Sparano said. “That’s the greatest average in the league right now.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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