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Posted at 06:55 PM ET, 09/19/2012

What to make of Wes Welker’s diminished playing time


Wes Welker’s playing time is down this season but he no one seems to know why. (Elise Amendola - AP)
Over the last five seasons, Wes Welker has been Tom Brady’s favorite target in New England’s high-octane passing game.

Speedy, sure-handed and willing to take a hit across the middle despite his size, Welker has frequently played the role of possession receiver and big-play threat.

So why did the Patriots start Julian Edelman on Sunday against Arizona over the guy who led the NFL in receptions three times in the last five years?

Welker entered the game on New England’s second series — after tight end Aaron Hernandez left with an injury — and still finished with a team-high 95 yards on five catches despite diminished snaps. But through two weeks, Welker has just 109 yards on eight grabs. And on the day he broke Troy Brown’s career receptions mark with the franchise, Welker played just 79 percent of the snaps compared to Edelman’s 92.6 percent, leaving fans and people around the NFL scratching their heads.

Bill Belichick is hardly a prime informant, but even Welker said Monday that he was unsure whether he was starting up until game time.

“I really wasn’t positive even leading up to the first series,” Welker said on WEEI’s “Mut and Merloni” show. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. So I just go out there and whenever my number is called, I go out and play.”


In two weeks, Julian Edelman has already surpassed his 2011 receiving yardage total. (Jared Wickerham - Getty Images)
The Boston Herald offered a wide array of theories for Welker’s disappearing act ranging from New England’s unwillingness to give him a long-term contract to a possible injury to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels phasing him out with his play-calling. And then there was the drop in the Super Bowl.

McDaniels said Welker’s playing time was a reflection of game-planning and that the team’s leading wideout “is going to be a big part of our game plan each week that we go in and play.”

But the former Broncos head coach also said Edelman “has earned the right to get out there and play.”

The Boston Globe’s Greg Bedard floated the theory that the team could be giving the 26-year-old Edelman a chunk of Welker’s snaps to see if he can fill the void should they decide to trade the 31-year-old veteran. But he deemed that strategy “beyond vicious and vindictive” for a player who has “done everything asked of him and more” for the Patriots.

But CBSSports.com’s Mike Freeman notes that the Patriots dealt Randy Moss before the deadline, and by doing so, were able to control where he ended up. They could follow a similar path with Welker.

This week the Patriots added free agent tight end Kellen Winslow and brought back veteran receiver Deion Branch to give Brady more targets with Hernandez on the shelf. But as NESN’s Luke Hughes noted, Branch’s presence should have a minimal impact on Welker’s playing time since the former plays on the outside and the latter usually occupies the slot.

What’s your take? Are the Patriots phasing Welker out or will he retain his role as the team’s most reliable pass catcher?

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More

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Patriots sign Kellen Winslow, Deion Branch

Hernandez extension further clouds Welker’s future with Patriots

Welker signs franchise tender with Patriots, gives up leverage

Welker’s ‘100 times out of 100’ drop proves costly in Super Bowl

By  |  06:55 PM ET, 09/19/2012

 
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