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Patriots encouraged by Welker's speedy return to practice field

  • By Associated Press
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Wes Welker stretched under the bright sun. He weaved between cones during an agility drill. He caught passes with other New England Patriots receivers.

One of the few signs that Welker, the NFL's top pass catcher over the past three years, had major surgery exactly four months earlier was the brace on his left knee.

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If Welker is ahead of schedule in his recovery, he's not saying. He declined to talk with reporters during New England's organized team activities Wednesday. But with the season opener still more than three months away, the sight of Welker running and cutting was encouraging to the Patriots' other dangerous pass catcher.

"It's very impressive to me," Randy Moss said. "I'm a big fan of Welker's way before he came here, back when he was in Miami. So I can't wait to have him back on the field, whenever that day comes."

Meanwhile, quarterback Tom Brady will have to settle for throwing passes to Welker in practice, as he did Wednesday. The last time Brady did that in a game was on the fourth play of the Patriots' regular-season finale, a 34-27 road loss to the Houston Texans on Jan. 3. Welker caught the ball on the left side, and his left leg -- without being hit -- buckled as he planted it at the Texans' 49-yard line.

The Patriots lost Welker for the playoffs and, it was feared, several games in the 2010 season, starting with the Sept. 12 opener against the Cincinnati Bengals in Foxborough.

Welker had surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Feb. 2. The medial collateral ligament also was damaged, but it didn't require surgery.

"If you have that healing on its own, it almost becomes stronger," he said at the Wes Welker Foundation's football camp May 15 in Oklahoma City. "It's hard to put a timetable on anything.

"And plus, whenever you put a timetable on it, now people expect you. If you're not ready then, they're like, 'What's wrong?' "

There were indications before Wednesday that Welker's recovery was progressing nicely. He ran at his camp last month. During the Boston Celtics' playoff series against the Orlando Magic, he had a courtside seat, and when the scoreboard picture showed him, he got up and did a little dance.

On Wednesday, Welker didn't run at top speed or cut as sharply as he would in a game. He left the field for the middle of the practice, then returned and stood on the sideline while holding the brace.

Still, cornerback Leigh Bodden liked what he saw.

"It's surprising to see him out here," Bodden said, "but it's good to see him out here. He's working just to get back."

Welker was undrafted and signed with the San Diego Chargers for the 2004 season. He was cut after playing one game and signed with the Dolphins, with whom he caught 96 passes before being traded to the Patriots for two draft picks on March 2007.

Welker has 346 receptions in his three seasons with New England. He tied T.J. Houshmandzadeh for the NFL lead in 2007 with 112 and led the league last season with a club-record 123, despite missing most of the regular-season finale.

Without Welker, the Patriots lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the playoffs, 33-14.

The Patriots' current four-day OTA session ends Thursday. They have four more days of OTAs next Monday through Thursday.

By then, Welker might be doing even more.

"He's a big part of our team and a great player," cornerback Darius Butler said. "So I'm happy to see him recovering well."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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