New England just put the wraps on another full-pads practice (the sixth of the first seven camp workouts) Sunday morning under bright, sunny skies at Gillette Stadium. ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss reports, Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, who practiced with the team for the first time since being removed from the active/physically unable to perform list this morning was wearing a black brace over his left knee, went through individual drills and appeared to be running at full speed. When the Patriots went to full-team 11-on-11 work, both defensively and on special teams, Welker worked on the opposite field with members of the strength and training staff. So he did not absorb any contact this morning.
In individual and agility drills, Welker ran a variety of routes, worked on getting off the jam at the line of scrimmage, and zig-zagged through orange cones before catching the football. At one point, he sprinted about 8 yards, stopped quickly, cut to his left, before shifting direction to the opposite side to catch a pass.
Welker spoke with reporters after practice, here is the complete transcript of the nine minute Q&A as provided by the Patriots’ PR staff:
Q: So how does it feel to be back out there on the field?
WW: It feels good. It doesn’t feel like I ever left it, just being out there and being able to work and do some things when nobody’s really looking. It feels good out there. It feels good to get out there with the teammates and do some things.
Q: Do you feel 100 percent?
WW: No. We’re not there yet, but every day we get a little bit closer. Slowly but surely we are making progress.
Q: Did you ever think in your wildest dreams that you’d be back out there this early after the injury occurred?
WW: I don’t know. I just wanted to take it each day, a day at a time and sit there and work at it and try and get better each day.
Q: You passed your physical, but are you able to do full contact?
WW: I don’t know. That’s up to the doctors and the coaches and seeing when I get out there with the team in full drills and things like that. Whenever they think that it’s ready, I’ll be out there.
Q: What are some of things you can attribute to getting out here as soon as you did?
WW: It’s just working with the right people and working hard with it. That’s all it came down to.
Q: Who are some of those people, Wes?
WW: They are training staff, some great people I worked out with in California, and some many people that are affiliated with the team and making sure they are doing everything possible to get me out on the field.
Q: Can you take us back to what it was like to walk up the steps and receive the ovation?
WW: Yes, it was great. I was just happy to get out there and get to play and be out there with my teammates. That’s been my goal and I’m just happy for today to finally get here. You all think it’s quick. It seems like a long time to me.
Q: Is there anything limiting that you feel like you can’t do at this point?
WW: I’m not fully there, but we are getting closer. I can’t point out one thing. I think I can get better at a lot of things, whether I am 100 percent or not. And we are going to keep on working towards that.
Q: What are you looking to specifically see from yourself to make you say ‘that’s 100 percent?’ Is it speed? Is it cutting ability?
WW: I don’t know. For me, it’s going out and doing my job every single play and making sure that I’m getting plusses on it on every play I’m out there. As long as I’m getting the job done and making things happen out there, I’m going to be happy with myself. If not, then I still have work to do.
Q: Do you feel like you are getting plusses right now? What aspects specifically?
WW: I think you are always trying to work on every part of your game no matter what it is. For me, it’s [everything] from releases to getting down field to getting out of my cuts to everything [else] no matter what it is, whether I was hurt or whether I wasn’t.
Q: At this point, when you are making cuts or running routes, are you still thinking about it?
WW: Not really. I’m obviously out there. If I felt like I was favoring or anything like that, I probably wouldn’t be out here. It’s feeling good so far, and we are going to keep on trying to get that muscle memory back of making those quick moves and get that stuff back.
Q: How would you rate the likelihood of September 12 when the Cincinnati Bengals come to town for the season opener of you being out there?
WW: I don’t know. Obviously, I would like to be. That’s up to the coaches and doctors and we will put it in their hands and see what they have to say about that.
Q: What was the toughest part of the rehab for you?
WW: There was really no vacation time. There was no nice weekend here, nice weekend there, or anything like that. It was six days of work a week and trying to get it in every single day and make sure I’m bringing it every single day. That’s kind of been the toughest part.
Q: You spent a lot of time one-on-one with Tom Brady today. Is that second nature at this point or is there a lot of work to be done to make sure you guys are on the same page before a game?
WW: I think you can always get better. No matter if we throw everyday or not, there is always something we can improve on. Sometimes we are going to miss, and when we get those things worked out…No matter where we are together, something can always get better.
Q: Is the knee brace something you are going to have to wear all year long? Is that at your discretion or the doctors?
WW: I think it’s both. When the doctors feel good with me, the trainers feel good with me, the coaches, and I have the confidence, I feel like we will be out of it. In the meantime, we will take it easy and make sure we have it on and take all the precautions.
Q: Was there ever a discussion that you would wear a red non-contact jersey today?
WW: No. That was never really talked about.
Q: Do you think there is any possibility you can end up quicker, stronger? You are running routes with a guy tied to your back right now. Could you end up better?
WW: That’s the goal: It’s to get better. Whether you’re hurt or not and whether you are coming back from something or not, everyday is just about improving and making sure you are really critiquing all the little aspects of your game.
Q: You passed your physical a day or two shy of six months from your surgery. Was that the goal for you? Or did you have a goal in mind?
WW: I didn’t really. My goal was working hard every single day and making sure that I’m putting myself in the best position possible to be back. That’s all I could do on a daily basis. I feel like I’ve done that. Wherever I’m at is where I’m at and luckily, we’ve been able [to get] this far.
Q: Is the noncontact a doctor’s decision or a coach’s decision?
WW: You’ll have to ask Coach [Bill] Belichick about that because I’m not sure who’s call it is. I just go with what they tell me.
Q: Then you have been cleared for contact?
WW: I have no idea if I am or not, so you will have to ask Coach Belichick about that one.
Q: Would you like to have contact to add that element?
WW: Of course. That’s going to happen eventually. You want to make sure that you are ready at some point. Whether I get contacted later on in the season or early on, it’s going to happen at some point. You’ve got to be ready for it, but you have to make sure that your whole body is ready for it.
Q: Are there one or two things that might be the most challenging for you as you come back?
WW: I think coming off the ball with a lot of explosion and making sure you are getting in and out of your cuts with separation. [It’s] really just getting back into the swing of things. Whether you are hurt or not, when you haven’t played any sort of football for six months and you are just coming out there and trying to do it, there’s going to be some mishaps. You’re not going to be all there. You’re going to be a little bit rusty, so you have to knock that rust off, and make sure that you’re coming back the way you need to.
Q: Were you just practicing your soccer skills there when you dropped that ball and booted it halfway across the field?
WW: That was just a little bit of frustration. I should’ve caught that one. And yes, I like to display my soccer skill whenever I get an opportunity.
Q: You looked like David Villa on that one.
WW: Except he puts it in the back of the net. I don’t know where that ball was going.
Q: You got applause on almost every catch you made. Did that kind of fuel the fire a little bit?
WW: Absolutely. Anytime you’ve got the fans out here, it definitely adds a little bit of motivation and making sure you are looking nice out there…You know people are watching, so you want to make sure you are looking good and staying on top of your game.
Q: Coach Bill Belichick had made the point that when you are coming back from an injury like this, the last 10 to 20 percent is sort of the hardest to get back. What is the last 10 to 20 percent?
WW: I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him that because I’m not sure what that is. I think it’s mainly just knocking the rust off and making sure that you are out there getting routes and running routes against coverages, and [having] a man in your face, and getting releases and things like that. It’s hard to simulate that stuff when you aren’t out on the field.
Q: You said you are not 100 percent yet. Do you feel like you’ve been at the same place for quite a while and you have that one final hump to get over?
WW: I feel like there’s improvement every time. I think I can constantly get better at my game. The knee feels great and the shoulder feels great. It’s just a matter of teaching the muscles, ‘Hey, this is how you are supposed to move. You are supposed to get out of your breaks like this. You are supposed to be able to explode out like this.’ And really, [it’s about] kind of getting them back in that shape.
Q: Is one ahead of the other? Is your shoulder better than your knee? Is your knee ahead of your shoulder?
WW: I wouldn’t say that one is any better than the other. They both have their days. It’s like a girlfriend. They have good days. They have bad days. You wake up and you roll with the punches.
Q: Are you worried at all about getting back all the way?
WW: No, not at all. It’s [about] just consistently working on a daily basis and making sure that we are getting those muscles back firing and doing what they know they can do. Eventually we will get there.
The Patriots second practice of the day gets under way today at 3:45. Check back for a full recap on the days action, as well as an update on the Derrick Burgess and Logan Mankins situations