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Wes Welker Returns to Practice: Too Soon?

Wes Welker stretches at practice (Stew Milne/AP)

When the Patriots took the field for OTAs on Wednesday, a familiar, but unexpected face took the field with them. Only four months removed from major surgery to repair his torn ACL and MCL, Wes Welker was just another Patriots player getting some reps in under the beating sun.

Extent of Activity

While he did not fully participate in practice, from an onlooker’s perspective, the only sign that he recently had major surgery was a brace on the injured knee. He was seen running routes at slightly less than 100 percent and catching passes from Tom Brady.  According to media members in attendance, he was cutting on routes, but appeared to be doing so in a reserved way.

Welker declined to talk to the media in the wake of his first activity with the team, but one of his fellow receivers had plenty of praise to throw his way.

“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.”

Other teammates expressed similar astonishment that he was back on the field so soon.

“It’s surprising to see him out here,” Leigh Bodden said, “but it’s good to see him out here. He’s working just to get back.”

On May 22  at the football camp Welker runs, he said that the rehab was going well, but that it is still early in the process. “Yeah, it’s way early. We’ll see what happens. My plan is to keep working hard and keep doing the things I’ve been doing to get to where I am now, and just keep on doing that stuff.”

Too much, too soon?

This is a pretty surprising development considering the normal recovery time after this kind of surgery is 6-12 months.

Don’t try telling Welker he is pushing it too hard though. He said the following on May 22 when asked how he guards against doing too much:

“I don’t. I think that is everybody else’s feeling on it, that I’m pushing too much – or ‘do this or do that.’ But I feel like I do the right amount and try to push it as much as I can and as far as I can without doing anything bad to it. Just make sure I’m progressing and pushing it along as much as possible.”

For any other person, this early appearance might raise red flags, but Welker is too hard of a worker and cares too much about his profession to do something silly like rush himself back from major surgery.  As Tedy Bruschi pointed out on NFL Live, Welker could have gotten in his work in the Fieldhouse and out of the eyes of the media, but this was not about the work.

“For Wes to come out there at an OTA, in front of the media, on the practice field, is a statement,” says Bruschi.

Welker wanted to show Patriots’ fans just how much work he has put in this off-season.

Ready for the Regular Season?

With the season more than three months away, it seems plausible that he could return for the opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 12. This seemed completely out of the realm of possibility just a month ago, and is still probably unlikely, but now seems to be within reach.

It seems more likely that Welker will make his return sometime in the range of Week 2-4, but if anyone can make it back for the start of the season, it’s Wes.

Welker served notice to NFL fans and players everywhere: don’t count him out just yet.

About Matt Huegel

Stats: •Age: 21 •Sex: Male •Favorite sports: Baseball, Football, Basketball •Favorite Boston Players: Rajon Rondo, Dustin Pedroia, Wes Welker •Title: Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots, Fantasy Writer •Contact: Huegel at sportsofboston.com I publish articles focusing primarily on Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots, and fantasy sports. I have been a life-long fan of Boston sports. I first began my love of our home-town teams with the Red Sox, and in recent years I have taken that passion to a new level. Not only do I follow the major league team, but all of the minor league affiliates on a daily basis as well. I am well-versed on almost every prospect in the system, and began writing some shorter news pieces for SoxProspects.com in March of 2010. My love of Boston sports extends strongly to the Patriots and Celtics as well, and also to the Bruins to a lesser degree. I currently attend Northeastern University in Boston, and will graduate with a degree in Political Science and History at the end of 2010. I have always been interested in taking my love of sports to a new level and making a career out of it. Sports of Boston is a great opportunity for me to get my ideas out and hone my writing skills. I enjoy writing on these teams that I am so passionate about, and hope it shows. When not watching or reading about Boston sports, I am often doing research on fantasy sports. Specifically, I am obsessed with fantasy football and a keeper league which I have been taking part in since my high school days. Fantasy football goes year-round for me. I hope to share some of my expertise in this area when the NFL season begins.

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