Welker: 'Coaches coach, players play'
New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker on Monday deflected questions about why it seems Julian Edelman has passed him on the team's depth chart, adding that while there were clues at practice last week that he would not be a starter for Sunday's game, he wasn't sure until the first offensive series.
"I wasn't sure what was going to happen," Welker said Monday in an interview with Boston sports radio station WEEI. "So I just go out there, and whenever my number's called, I go out and play. ... I don't know. It is what it is. Coaches coach, players play. That's all I can do."
Through two games, Welker has seven fewer targets, seven fewer receptions and 132 fewer yards than he had at this point last season. He caught five balls for 95 yards in Sunday's 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, but only saw the field after tight end Aaron Hernandez went down early in the first quarter and the Patriots played the rest of the game primarily in a three-receiver set.
Welker, who has averaged an NFL-best 111 catches per season during his time in New England, said he wasn't concerned about no longer being the focal point of the offensive attack.
"We've got a good team and some good players, and (offensive balance is) good to have," Welker said. "If we have to rely on me to make 120 catches, it's not where we want to be as an offense. We have some guys that really stepped up and it's good to have those guys out there and making plays for us."
Could it be that Welker isn't on the same page as Tom Brady and the offense? Welker missed a week of practice during training camp and said that hurt his preparation.
"I think different things happen, and I had a death in the family and missed a week of practice. And you do, you miss a week, it's like missing two weeks back in the day," he said. "I say back in the day; you know, a couple years ago. It's a little bit different, so you've got to make sure you're on top of everything and staying up to the challenge. Missing that time and stuff, it hurts, I agree with you. Especially now that you don't get as many reps."
Although the 31-year-old alluded to previous seasons in which he missed camp time but was able to easily move on to the regular season without missing a beat, he said he is still working through some things as the 2012 campaign progresses.
"Obviously you want to have more reps, especially game situations against different teams and things like that, but I've been in situations where I haven't played a lot in the preseason before and been able to come out there and done just fine," Welker said. "You're just kind of getting the hiccups out and making sure you're ready to go."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday he didn't think the time Welker missed at camp has affected him on the field.
"Wes has a lot of experience around here," Belichick said. "I think he's one of our smartest and obviously most experienced players, so I don't really see him behind."
Edelman was asked on Monday if he was surprised by the additional offensive reps he's received.
"I just go into the game doing whatever the coaches ask me to do," he responded. "I prepare each and every day like I'm gong to be playing, and if my number is called, my number is called."
When asked specifically if he sensed a change in his role on the team, Edelman said, "I've gotten a little more clock."
Belichick sidestepped a question about what he saw in Edelman that led him to promote him over Welker in some personnel packages, leaving critics and fans to speculate at the motivation. At least one prominent pundit -- former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason -- thinks the coach is trying to send Welker a message after the team and player could not agree on a contract extension in the offseason. Welker is making $9.5 million this season under the franchise tag.
"I think this has to do with the fact that he didn't sign a long-term contract extension," Esiason said in his weekly WEEI appearance on Monday. "I also think that it has something to do with them trying to force-feed Brandon Lloyd. Bill does some quirky things. It's Bill's franchise, this is the way he runs it. I think Wes Welker being quiet about it tells you a lot, meaning that he does not want to piss off the head coach, the guy that makes the decisions, and he's going to be a loyal soldier. But inside he's got to be burning. Certainly he has a lot of pride for who he is as a football player. ...
"I think Tom Brady gets stuck in the middle here. I don't care what Tom says, it's got to be frustrating that a very dear friend of his on the field is for some reason being made an example of. I certainly don't like it. I wouldn't have liked it if I were the quarterback. But this is something that goes on constantly in the NFL."
Brady said the fact that Welker didn't start Sunday was just a product of him not being a part of the formation with which the Patriots opened the game. He also suggested the Patriots were trying to lighten the load on Welker, who played just over 89 percent of his team's snaps last season (he is at 71.1 percent this season).
Brady's message Monday in his weekly interview on WEEI was that it's too early in the season to read too much into Welker's playing time.
"We don't sit there and overanalyze it after two games the way that you guys (in the media do)," Brady said. "I mean, there's different weeks where we have personnel groupings and we use them differently, and we throw the ball a little bit more, some weeks when we run the ball a little bit more and it's just one of those games when we actually threw the ball way more than we wanted to throw it, it was just the way it was dictated.
"Wes is a big part of our offense, he had a big game yesterday, had some really critical catches for us. Brandon (Lloyd) did, Julian did, (Rob Gronkowski) did. All the guys that were out there were contributing. And we're going to need, now that Aaron's not in there, we're going to need other guys to play a bigger role."
Hernandez's ankle injury figures to keep him on the sideline for a few weeks, which likely means a spike in playing time for Welker, who was on the field for 63 of 79 offensive snaps after the tight end went down.