McDaniels: Edelman has earned it

With much media attention focused on veteran Wes Welker's decreased role and Julian Edelman's rise on the wide receiver depth chart, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Tuesday that Edelman has earned the playing time.

Welker found himself as the No. 3 option behind Brandon Lloyd and Edelman on Sunday in the Patriots' 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

In his weekly conference call with reporters, McDaniels praised Edelman's versatility and said the Patriots rely on him in several packages for his speed and playmaking ability.

"I think we have a lot of guys that can do different things and help us make some plays and move the ball. Julian is certainly one of those guys," he said. "He made quite a few plays the other day in the game and really helped us, and came up big, in a couple of those two-minute situations there. He's a guy that gives you everything he's got on every play. He's got speed and has caught the ball well for us so far this year. He's a returner and gives you an element of run-after-catch that I'd say is something he does fairly well. Not to say that we don't have other players that do it very well too, but Jules, I think, has earned the right to get out there and play."

Edelman probably had his best offseason and training camp, and remains an ascending player in his fourth season. Patriots coach Bill Belichick confirmed this on sports radio WEEI on Monday, saying, "Julian has improved a little bit every year. I think he had a good training camp."

Meanwhile, Welker, who is making $9.5 million in 2012 under the franchise tag, is one of the NFL's highest-paid pass-catchers and has a history of making the big catches for New England. On Sunday he gave the offense new life with receptions of 25 (solid sideline grab) and 36 yards (up the seam).

When asked why Welker's playing time is down from last season, McDaniels emphasized that that the Patriots have several options on offense and indicated that Welker will still be a big part of their plans.

"I think Wes played a big role for us the other day. I think it just goes back to the fact that we feel like we've got a number of different guys that can contribute and help our offense, and have earned the opportunities that they are getting," McDaniels said. "Wes, whatever it was, [we] threw the ball his way 12 or 13 times or somewhere in that neighborhood the other day. He made a number of big plays for us. Each game plan ends up different. Sometimes we play guys the majority of the game. Other times, we feel like using some different rotations that may give us some advantages, whether that may be a matchup we end with in the front, or a personnel grouping that we expect the defense to give us. Or even formationally ourselves, in terms of what we try to do. I think there are a number of factors that go into our game plan every week, but certainly, he's going to be a big part of our game plan each week that we go in and play."