It was our pleasure to talk with New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker recently, especially given the promotion he's doing with two other famous NFL players -- Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware (who we'll be talking with very soon ... stay tuned). While most athlete endorsements focus on the appearance of physical dominance, Welker, Matthews and Ware recently took part in something called "The Big Try-On" for ... Depend undergarments.
Yes, you read that right.
In truth, it's an interesting deal for an important cause. Per the press release, "The Great American Try-On" raises awareness and offers confidence to the many Americans living with bladder control issues. All three players have tried on a pair of the new Depend Real Fit briefs under their uniforms to show that you can be as active as you want to be while wearing them. Their participation in The Great American Try-On supports The V Foundation for Cancer Research's mission to find a cure for cancers — specifically prostate cancer, a leading cause of bladder control issues in men. They're also encouraging others to participate by visiting TheGreatAmericanTryOn.com, and we would encourage you to do the same.
Welker helped us transition from his part in the promotion to more hardcore football talk with some ... interesting stories about certain inevitabilities that may occur when one is on a football field and nature calls. This is Part 1 of the interview; we'll have the conclusion up later Monday.
Shutdown Corner: I wanted to start with "The Great American Try-On" that you and Clay Matthews and DeMarcus Ware are doing -- this has to be the most unconventional promotion I've ever seen involving NFL players. How did you get involved, and what was the appeal to you?
Wes Welker: Depend approached us about taking part in the Great American Try-On, and at first we were a little sensitive about it -- it's about diapers. But after they started talking about all the things that people really go through, and all the bladder control issues that people have with prostate cancer and other things like that, we decided that it would be a great thing to take part in. Not only that, but the donations that have been made to the V Foundation have been over $100,000. So, it's been a great deal all the way around. We've done a lot with it, and it's been really cool to see. We really enjoyed it and had fun with it.
SC: I think it's great, because there are certain things that aren't talked about, or made fun of when they are talked about, and that can hinder awareness of real problems. When athletes at your level bring that awareness to it, it seems to change perceptions over time.
WW: Yeah, I think so. And having us actually physically trying them on, and seeing how they fit, and everything else -- you can really hardly tell you're wearing them at all. We wore them underneath football pants and everything else, and it really is a comfortable fit. We definitely had some fun with this whole deal. It's really been cool to see how people have changed their thoughts on this.
SC: Is this the kind of thing that could solve that noted sideline problem of having to go during a game -- all of a sudden, you see three low-level assistants surround a player with towels to hide the player from view, and you know exactly what's happening?
WW: [Laughs] Yeah -- I joked about that -- wearing them before games, because I'm always over there, peeing on the sidelines. Might as well just throw these bad boys on and let 'er rip.
SC: Well, all right then! Moving from that to the Patriots' 2011 season as smoothly as we are able -- it was another great season for you guys, and you came very close to getting that Super Bowl ring. I wanted to start with the change in your offense from when you came to New England in 2007, and it was more of a spread-style offense with you and Randy Moss, to the two-tight sets, and the more fast-break offense with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. How has that change been for you, and for Tom Brady, and for the offensive structure?
WW: I think the change in process was really just going with our best guys -- the guys we feel are our best players, and really trying to get them out there. Get them moving around in different scenarios and making plays. Our two tight ends are great assets to us, and we try to keep them out there as much as possible. I think that's why you have to go at it, where in the past, our receivers were a strength for us. Not that they aren't now, but that's just kind of where we are as an offense, and the guys just change in that way. It's been really good.
SC: Now, while you've been doing your promotion, Gronk has been throwing watermelons on the ground, and smashing Megatron figures, in a transparent attempt to get the Madden cover. His on-field role is fairly defined, but this seems like a pretty unconventional character off the field.
WW: Off the field ... yeah ... that's just Gronk being Gronk. He's just one of those guys -- he's funny, and he's just being himself. We always tell him, 'Dude, don't change for anything.' It's pretty comical to watch. I encourage it a little too much, I must admit.
SC: On the field, it helps that you have a fairly decent quarterback ... name of Brady ... he seems pretty good. But what is it about that offense that allows Gronkowski to flourish in ways we've never really seen any tight end in any offense before?
WW: Really, the guy's just a beast. He's kind of a freak out there. He's so big and so strong, he catches the ball really well and runs really well. And, believe it or not, he's a pretty intelligent guy. He does a good job of being in the plays for the coaches, and he's so physically gifted, that he's able to make some plays for us.
SC: The relationship between you and Tom Brady -- there's only one season that you haven't caught at least 100 passes with the Patriots. When you develop that kind of connection, at what point does everything become sort of second nature, and you can change a route with just a look, and communicate at another level?
WW: I feel like it's always advancing. We're always trying to find new ways to attack defenses -- it's always evolving as we look for different things to do. Sometimes, I think we think almost more than we need to, but we're always looking for new routes, and new ways to get open -- get the ball, and go make some plays.
[ Related: Chad Ochocinco slashes pay to remain with Patriots ]
SC: Chad Ochocinco had that first disappointing season with the Patriots, whereas you came in and hit the ground running from day one in 2007. Why did he struggle, and what will be different for him in 2012?
WW: Going into last year, we were in a lockout, and we had no offseason to put anything together. I think that's going to help, having [OTAs] this year. Just being out there and hearing the calls and not just thinking about where to line up. [He'll be able to] think about the routes, and what he's going to run and things like that. Having a year of experience in the system -- I mean, he ran the same system in Cincinnati for the last 10-11 years, whatever it was, so to come to a whole different system and hear a whole new set of play calls ... it's different, and it's hard to get used to after all those years, you really almost have to re-learn everything as if you were a rookie.
SC: Was that the case for you when you went from Miami to New England? Because you came in, and you caught 112 balls in what may have been the most explosive offense in NFL history.
WW: Yeah ... I feel that we were a little more simplified that year. If you look back at 2007, it was me, Randy [Moss], Donte [Stallworth], Jabar [Gaffney] had just half a season the year before, so we had a lot of guys who had just come into the system. So we were kind of on ground level at that point. Chad came in at a point where me and Deion [Branch] had been in the offense for quite a while, and we were a little more evolved. It was different scenarios, different places, different times.
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