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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.
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.”
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.
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.