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Road less traveled puts Welker on pace for record-setting season

To learn a thing or two about hard work and humble beginnings, consider the story of Wes Welker.

Listed at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, Welker didn't make a strong impression on NFL personnel folks in 2004, when he went undrafted out of Texas Tech. The San Diego Chargers signed him, and even though Welker made the roster out of training camp, the team gave up on him after the first game. From there, Welker signed with the Miami Dolphins, who for nearly three seasons primarily used him as a return specialist and third/fourth receiving option.

Then came 2007, when Welker signed with the New England Patriots. All he has done since then is become Tom Brady's favorite weapon and, as a result, one of the elite wide receivers in the NFL.

Was there ever a chance Welker believed his career would turn out this way?

"No, I thought I was going to return kicks and punts my whole career," Welker said during an interview that aired Sunday on "NFL GameDay Morning" on NFL Network. "I didn't know that it could become this. ... I was just trying to keep a job. I wasn't looking for a big contract or anything like that. I just wanted to keep a job and make minimum. I was more than happy with that. So I just thought that's what it was going to be.

"And I was like, 'The more receiver I can play, you know, then they'll see I can do that and help out there, and they'll keep me around longer.' But, you know, I had no idea that it would ever turn into this."

This being the greatest season of his career and one of the best the NFL has ever witnessed through five weeks.

Welker entered Sunday's play with 45 catches for 740 yards and five touchdowns. Those numbers put him in position to break Marvin Harrison's single-season record for receptions (143 in 2002) and Jerry Rice's mark for receiving yards (1,848 in 1995).

It's difficult to believe a guy who is 5-foot-nothing and a-hundred-and-nothing pounds would outproduce his more athletic counterparts -- the Larry Fitzgeralds, Andre Johnsons and Roddy Whites of the world. But that's exactly what has happened.

"I think it's just a culmination of things," Welker said. "The training I put in this offseason and the workload that, you know, I wanted to really take on this year. ... I wanted to come out here and have a great year and really get things going. And, you know, we're off to a good start. Hopefully we'll keep it going. But, you know, having No. 12 back there never hurts, either."

It wasn't easy for Welker to reach this point. Last year proved to be a long road to recovery as he spent the 2010 offseason rehabilitating his left knee after tearing both the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in Week 17 of the 2009 season. The knee held up for most of 2010 (he missed five games), but something wasn't right. Even though Welker was named to his third Pro Bowl in 2010, he knew his 86 catches for 848 yards and seven touchdowns was a down year for him.

Welker believed he lost his burst. He questioned whether or not he could regain the pep in his step, given all the hard work he put into the 2010 offseason. Even though things didn't work immediately, Welker remained confident he could return to form if he just continued training.

"(The 2010 offseason was) seven days of work -- always doing something, massages, breaking down the scar tissue, trying to do all the things necessary to try and get back out there on that field," Welker said. "I wouldn't say I was at the point where I wanted to be last year. But I put myself in the best-case scenario I could going into that year. But, you know, having this past offseason to really train and really get after it, I think I'm really starting to get back to my old self."

It shows.

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