While everyone in the football
world focuses on Rob
Gronkowski’s injured ankle, the debate this week
is whether New England even has a chance in Super Bowl XLVI without the
Patriots’ enormous tight end.
Going unnoticed in
this debate is the possible impact receiver Wes Welker will
have in the
game. Welker did tie a Super Bowl record with a 11 catches for 103
yards in Super Bowl XLII without the Patriots having strong tight ends
then and at last check, Welker is the NFL’s leading receiver. He’s
caught 554 passes since 2007, more than any other receiver in the
league, for 6,105 yards and 31 touchdowns.
When seeing Rob Gronkowski in
a walking boot a week before the game, Welker said “it’s concerning,
but at the same time you don’t really worry about it. You just go out
there and do your job and understand that we have a big game ahead of
us, and you have to prepare and get ready. All of the other stuff will
take care of itself in the end.”
Welker has a right to be
confident, before he was a All-Pro receiver with the Patriots and
starter in Super Bowl XLVI, he was an undrafted free agent signing with
the San Diego Chargers
in 2004. Welker attended the Chargers offseason
minicamps that spring and the team’s summer training camp. Despite
surviving final roster cuts to make the opening day roster, he was cut
after the first game. He was definitely unnoticed then.
“I only played one game there.
I don’t even think people know that I actually played that one game
there,” said Welker during Sunday’s Super Bowl press conference. “I
learned a lot during that training camp and that minicamp. (The
experience) really helped me along and really put me in the position I
San Diego (Getty))
Welker said he still remembers
what it was like being released by the Chargers and the feeling
continues to fuel him. “Trust me, I take nothing for granted as far as
football goes and as far as my career and understanding that you never
know when your time is up,” said Welker. “They can cut you at any time.
I remember back then, I made the team and being a rookie, I didn’t know
that they could cut you in the middle of the season ... The next week I
was cut. It was definitely a very humbling experience for me.”
Welker was then signed by
that same year and spent two more average seasons with the Dolphins.
However, when Miami played their AFC East rival Patriots, Welker caught
the eye of Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
“He was a very frustrating
player to coach against because we really couldn’t handle him,” said
Belichick at the site of the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. “He caught
passes, he returned kicks, and when (Olindo) Mare got hurt, he even
went in and kicked extra points, field goals and kicked off against us.
That was annoying, too. We doubled him; we played him in different
combinations. He was always the guy we were trying to game plan for,
and still couldn’t stop.”
Instead of trying to stop him,
Belichick decided to acquire the 5-foot-9, 185 pound slot receiver by
giving the Dolphins a second and seventh round draft pick during the
2007NFL Draft. The rest is Patriots receiving history.
“When we had an opportunity to
trade for him, we did that. We felt like he would be a good addition to
our team, and he has been. We have just as much trouble covering him in
practice, and Tom (Brady) has just as much confidence throwing to him
as the quarterbacks in Miami did when we were trying to defend him … he
drove us crazy.”
Welker had 122 receptions for
1,569 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011. On Sunday, expect Welker to
drive the Giants defense crazy, whether Gronkowski is on the field or
not. He will be noticed!
# # #
Kevin Saleeba is a frequent contributor and columnist
Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive
the team and experience covering the Patriots. Share
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