There are times when controversies aren't all they're cracked up to be. Consider the case of New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker, who was allegedly being forced out of his team's offense early in the 2012 season. Fast-forward a few weeks, and you have New England's 52-28 Week 4 won over the Buffalo Bills, when Welker led the team in targets (11, tied), catches (nine), and receiving yards (126). So, it seems that things are in the right place for the man who has led the league in receptions three times in the last six years.
When we caught up with Welker on Tuesday, we talked a lot of football, but he also wanted to discuss the "Sport Your Support" for Dick's Sporting Goods. The campaign raises awareness for and about breast cancer, and Welker wanted people to know about the "Endless Ribbon" campaign on Facebook.
Shutdown Corner: This is a great cause -- the "Sport Your Support" for Dick's Sporting Goods. Tell us about it, and how you got involved.
Wes Welker: For the past few years, we've been wearing the pink on the field for the month of October for breast cancer awareness, and my wife and I have actually had a close friend pass from the disease. It's something that's very close to us, and Dick's Sporting Goods has really taken action in donating $250,000 to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, whose mission is to save lives by increasing awareness of breast cancer through education, and by providing mammograms for those in need. Through their Facebook page, Dick's Sporting Goods is asking everyone to do a pink ribbon on their Facebook pages, just like I have on mine.
SC: I'm sure you've talked with your teammates about this -- in the NFL, so many players come from homes in which they were primarily raised by single mothers, so this subject must have a real emotional resonance.
WW: There are a lot of guys who are very close to their moms, as I am. A lot of us leaned on our moms growing up, and you certainly don't want your family to have to endure a disease like this. Anything we can do to prevent something like that from happening, that's what we need to do.
SC: Let's get the non-issue of your playing time out of the way -- in the first four games of the season, your percentage of snap counts has increased week-by-week from 63 percent, to 78 percent, to 89 percent, to 96 percent. What has been your mindset through all this? You've been the consummate pro, and you were reborn in New England after you were sort of cast away by Miami -- you've been through a lot in your career and succeeded through it. How do you handle the change in role as a professional?
WW: Your mindset is just to kind of dig deep, understand the situation, and just go out there and play to the best of your ability whenever you get the opportunity. Once you get the opportunity, you make the most of it. I've tried to do that, and just tried to help the team win. Whatever I need to do to do that, that's what I'm going to do.
SC: Was the decrease in playing time explained to you beforehand? Was that a game plan thing, or was it more general in nature?
WW: No, nothing was explained to me. I go out there with whatever the coaches call, and whatever they do, I just go out there and I'm the player. Coaches coach, and players play.
SC: After the Week 4 win over the Buffalo Bills, Chan Gailey, who's a pretty smart coach, basically said that the Bills had no answer for you. How does it make you feel when an opposing coach says that? It has to be a nice validation after all the talk this year.
WW: Obviously, coming from a coach like him, who's been around a long time and seen a lot of players, it feels good. Hopefully, I can just keep it going, and stay healthy, and doing whatever is asked of me.
SC: Through the Tom Brady era in New England, there have been, by my count, five different master game plans on offense. It seems to be Bill Belichick's insistence that his offense zigs when everyone else's is zagging, and he wants to stay a few steps ahead of the game from a schematic perspective.
WW: I think we look for matchups. We try to exploit matchups on the field, and take advantage of them. Whatever that calls for, whether a team's not good against the run or whatever, we think we'll do well there, we may run the ball more. It's just kind of whatever the defense gives us, and whatever matchups are good for us. Our backs did a great job of running the ball against Buffalo, and our offensive line really covered those guys up.
SC: With those changing offenses, has your general role changed, or are you more the stalwart guy, and everything changes around you?
WW: I think it's changed a little bit. There are a lot more two-receiver sets, where in the past, there were a lot more with three. We have bigger people out there on the field, and in those situations, you're outside a little bit more. It's a little bit different, but there are a lot of the same concepts.
SC: With the success of Victor Cruz last year, and the emergence of the slot receiver as a starting concept in the NFL in the last few seasons, do you consider yourself to be sort of a groundbreaker in how the slot position has been used?
WW: Maybe a little bit, just because I've had so much success there in the slot. Throwing the ball around like we have in the past out of the slot, and teams were sort of looking for that. I think it's just whatever matchups your team can find out there on the field.
SC: We know that Brady is very smart and has a ridiculous work ethic, but what is it about him specifically that allows him to change schemes completely so often and keep his production so high? It's an unusual attribute.
WW: He does such a great job in preparation, and being on top of everything, and really voicing his ideas -- talking to the receivers and backs and tight ends and saying, 'Hey, if we get this coverage, I think we can take advantage of that. I'm expecting you to do this, and I'm gonna throw it here.' It's very technical, and we're very on top of everything -- making sure everybody's doing the right things on the field. As long as we're doing that, we can never be wrong. We're not always going to be right, but we're going to be close to it.
SC: You're 31 now, you've been in the league since 2004, and there doesn't seem to be any downturn in the stat lines or on the game tape. Do you ever think about life after the game, or is football sort of an endless line in your mind right now?
WW: I'm just focused on what I'm doing right now. Just going out there and playing, and I think I have a lot of good football left in me. I take really good care of myself, and I make sure that my body's in tip-top condition, and I stay on top of everything -- eat right and do everything else to make sure that I can play for a long time.
SC: I am required by law to ask you one question about Tim Tebow, so here goes. Bill Belichick is known for taking players with diverse talents and using those talents in original ways. Whatever Tebow is or is not, he's certainly a guy who can do different things on the field. If Belichick had him -- a thought I've espoused at various times -- how do you think he would be used in the Patriots' system?
WW: You know what? I have no idea. That's probably a question for coach Belichick, but obviously, he's a great quarterback and does the Wildcat, and makes a lot of plays running the ball around. But I could also see him as an H-back. He does bring a lot of different things to the game that would challenge any offensive coordinator.
SC: You've played for some great and different coaches, most notable Mike Leach and Bill Belichick. You obviously know a great deal about the game. Can you see a far-off future as a coach somewhere?
WW: It's always a possibility -- never say never. That's tough to call. Parts of it, I'd really like and parts of it I wouldn't, just like any other job. We'll see.
SC: Focusing on the here and now -- the Patriots are 2-2, and you've lost your two games by a total of three points. With that 45-point slam you put on the Bills in the second half last Sunday, does it feel as if this team is where you guys need it to be right now?
WW: I think we're moving in the right direction. That put us in a place we want to be, and how we want to play.
SC: What do you do in the offseason? When you have free time, how do you wind down?
WW: Basically, I really like to train. That's what keeps me busy during the offseason -- just training and getting my body right and getting ready for the next year.