FOXBOROUGH — Few players in the NFL would have the right to be as gleeful about the additional protection now afforded to defenseless receivers as Wes Welker.
The Patriots wide receiver was the unsuspecting victim of a crushing blow by Steelers safety Ryan Clark in the Patriots’ 33-10 loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 30, getting clocked under the chin by an airborne Clark as he finished running his route on an uncatchable pass that had been tipped.
At the NFL’s annual meeting last month, a rules proposal was passed that outlawed any hit to the head or neck area of a defenseless receiver that involved the helmet, forearm or shoulder. Helmet-to-helmet hits in such circumstances were already illegal.
However, Welker said today that he could see both sides of the new rule and why some defenders might be upset with it.
“I’m sure it’s good, but at the same time it’s football, and it’s a physical game,” said Welker. “You don’t want to take that away from it, but at the same time you want to be able to protect the guys. I can kind of go both ways on the deal. I can understand why they did it, and I can understand why some guys like or dislike the rule. It’s part of it, and you just have to roll with the punches.”
Welker said he thinks defensive players will still be physical with receivers, and he understands why.
“It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, whether guys keep the same physical mentality, which I think they will. But at the same time you want to make sure you’re taking care of your body. You don’t want to put anybody’s career in danger or anything like that, but at the same time you got a job to do.”
Clark was flagged for a late hit on the play, but was not fined by the NFL because under the existing rules Clark’s hit was deemed legal. Although some of Welker’s teammates like Vince Wilfork viewed it as a cheap shot, Welker never expressed that sentiment.
Has his opinion of the hit changed now that some time has elapsed?
“Not really,” said Welker. “He made a good play. That’s all you can do about it. There’s nothing you can do until you play him again.”
The Steelers are not on the Patriots’ 2009 schedule.