PEABODY, Mass. -- Last year at this time, New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker was working out with quarterback Tom Brady, battling Los Angeles traffic and the emotional hurdles that came with rehabbing a torn ACL.
Being in the same environment with Brady pushed Welker through a difficult time, and Brady could relate, having endured his own knee rehab the year before. It was yet another layer to the Brady-Welker connection, which has been one of the NFL's most lethal combinations in recent years.
This offseason, however, the main connection the quarterback and receiver have made is by telephone, as Brady is working out in California, while Welker is in Florida.
"We actually just talked [Friday]. We talk quite a bit and stay in touch and kind of see how each other is doing and what we're working on and new things we like or don't like or whatever," Welker said Saturday at his Old Spice Football Camp at Bishop Fenwick High School.
"We're always trying to coordinate a schedule. He's really busy, I'm really busy. It's kind of tough just not being able to go up to the Patriots' facility and really get together and do something, but we're working on our schedules to get together and make sure we do something."
Welker chose Florida as his home base this offseason, in part because he still has a full-time home there from his days with the Miami Dolphins. He's been working out at Pete Bommarito Performance Systems with anywhere from 30 to 40 other NFL players, a group including the Chicago Bears' Matt Forte and Greg Olsen. Having a trainer who is familiar with him, as well as a "one-stop shop" for all his needs -- e.g. workout facilities, massage, swimming pool, etc. -- also factored in to his workout-location decision.
Meanwhile, Brady has been based in California, in part because of family considerations. He is working his way back from January foot surgery.
For his part, Welker is feeling as good as he has since 2009.
"I've actually been able to train instead of rehabbing. It's been a world of difference," he said. "I've been able to bench press for the first time. I've been able to squat, because of my shoulder I can [now] reach back there to grab the bar. Some of those things are kind of key when it comes to football."
"I feel so much better," Welker continued. "The running, there's no achiness. It's just being able to go out there and being able to do everything I've been able to do in the past and not have the aches and pains in the morning or any time through it all."
In that sense, it's been a productive offseason for Welker, even if he wishes there were more structured team activities.
Welker thinks some of the offseason camps that players from other teams have held have value, although they can't duplicate what it's like to go through meetings with coaches and then bring those football X's and O's to life on the practice field. He believes rookies are going to have a hard time making an impact this season without being part of minicamps, and that plans are in the works to get many of the Patriots players -- young and old -- together.
"[They're] going to be so far behind; it's definitely a tough time," he said of rookies. "Hopefully those guys are working out and understand that they probably need to pay for some workouts, spend a little money. That's a tough part right now. Guys are going into their own wallets to be able to train."
Welker's own wallet could be due for some extra padding, as he enters the last year of his contract. It's a topic that isn't on the forefront of his mind.
"I'm really not worried about it at all," he said. "I enjoy playing ball. Whenever it comes, it comes. It's probably the last thing on my mind. I just want to go out and play some winning football for my team."
Even that is no guarantee at this point, because of the NFL's lockout.
"I'm kind of at the same point a lot of the fans are. I'm definitely frustrated," he said. "I came into this league just wanting to play ball and never thought that something like this would be an issue. Being players and growing up and not having much, and the fact that we're squabbling about money, is kind of ridiculous to me.
"I came into this league [and] I probably made more money than I thought I ever would in a lifetime. Everything from here is just icing on the cake. Hopefully, we get something fair done and we get to a point where we can play football."
Welker's camp, though, brought him back to his football roots.
"It's good to see, just because it's the most pure form of football," he said. "The kids love being out there, they love running around, and have all sorts of energy. It's great to see, great to be around, and kind of energizes myself getting to see it a little bit."
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.