Wes Welker walked into the St. Louis Rams locker room this week and immediately became several things.
The five-time Pro Bowl receiver is the oldest player in the room at age 34.
Throughout his NFL career Welker has been known as one of the game’s top third-down receivers, unafraid to make tough catches that lead to tough contact. Right now he’s probably the team’s top possession receiver.
Welker also represents some hope for a stagnant offense minus a suspended receiver.
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With receiver Stedman Bailey sitting out a four-game suspension for violating the league;s substance abuse policy, Welker signed a one-year deal with the Rams. He sat out the first half of the season and has spent the last few days trying to assimilate the Rams’ offense while working closely with quarterback Nick Foles.
“A lot of things played into it,” said Welker, who has 890 catches for 9,822 yards and 50 touchdowns with San Diego, Miami, New England and Denver. “I was ready, I was looking for the right opportunity and everything just kind of came together here.”
He’s going to get open. He’s going to make the catch. He’s going to get the first down. He’s going to get down, get up and we’ll keep the chains moving.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher
I met with Coach (Jeff) Fisher and everybody. I really wasn’t sure what to do. But once I came here and saw everything and met everybody, I knew this was the right fit for me.”
Foles welcomes having another veteran receiver in the mix.
“Just trying to get him up to speed,” Foles said. “He’s a smart player. He’s been around the league, so he catches on fast, so it hasn’t been too hard. He catches on really fast.”
Fisher hasn’t said whether Welker will play Sunday at home against the Chicago Bears, but there’s one critical area that Welker’s career history would seem to be able to improve.
The Rams’ 23.8 percent conversion rate on third down is the worst in the NFL.
“He’s going to get open,” Fisher said. “He’s going to make the catch. He’s going to get the first down. He’s going to get down, get up and we’ll keep the chains moving. That’s kind of what we’re looking for. I think he’ll help Tavon (Austin) a little bit.”
Will Rams fans see Welker on the field Sunday wearing No. 19?
“He’s got a chance,” Fisher said Wednesday. “We’ll just have to wait. It’ll probably be a game time decision, a Saturday night decision just based on how much he’s been able to absorb things.”
I feel fine. That’s kind of the bottom line. Doctors have told me I’m good, but even then, I know me, my wife knows me, my family knows me. They’ve talked to me, we’ve interacted ... they know I’m good and I know I’m good, so that’s it on that.
Upon his return to the NFL after sitting out half a season, Welker also became a lightning rod for controversy. The media have documented at least six previous concussions and former Denver Broncos teammate Champ Bailey came out last July urging Welker to just stay away.
“I don’t want Wes to play for my own personal reasons. I’ve seen him get concussions. It scares me,” Bailey told Fox Sports. “I think he can still play, but I don’t want him to play because of these concussions. “This thing is no joke.
“It’s a serious thing when you start talking about your head. And for him to have to worry about that at a young age that he is now, he has to think about that for years to come, and I just hope he hangs it up and not strap it up again.”
Welker underwent thorough medical testing before signing with the Rams and while others may not be happy about, he wants to play football again.
Is he concerned about the previous concussions?
“Not really. I feel fine,” he said. “That’s kind of the bottom line. Doctors have told me I’m good, but even then, I know me, my wife knows me, my family knows me. They’ve talked to me, we’ve interacted ... they know I’m good and I know I’m good, so that’s it on that.”
Welker said things have gone exceedingly well in his early days as a Ram, but was asked about the difficulties of joining a team at midseason.
“I feel like I’m lucky here that the coaches are really giving me an opportunity to kind of do what I do best,” Welker said. “I’m ready to just get on the same page with the quarterback. We’ll kind of see how it all goes, but I’m happy with the progress I’ve made this week and we’ll see if we can continue to build on that.”
Welker has five seasons with 100 or more catches, including a 122-catch, 1,568-yard season with the Patriots as recently as 2011. His production dropped from 118 catches for 1,354 yards and six TDs with New England in 2012 to 73 catches with Denver in 2013 and 49 catches for 464 yards last season.
“You know what I’ll anticipate if he does play and he converts the first down, they’ll probably start chanting ‘Welker’ rather than ‘Gurley,”’ Fisher joked. “But that’s OK. That’s what he’s done. He moves chains. He just moves the chains.
“It’s just a matter of he and Nick getting on the same page here in a short period of time. We’ll just see what happens.”
Rams offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti believes Welker to could be a positive force both on the field and working with the team’s young receivers.
“His experience, and just Wes being a pro is going to bring a lot to a young group,” Cignetti said. “It’s great to have him in the building.”
Welker played in 14 games last season after returning from a concussion. He sees that as a positive sign.
“Absolutely, I already played a full season without a concussion,” he said. “I’m really not worried about it. I know I’m a poster child right now and everything else. I’m good and ready to play some ball.”
It’s only natural that there should be concerns for his long-term safety, right?
“Not at all. I’ve been cleared by the doctors and everything else,” he said. “Obviously I’m not going to try and look for contact and everything like that, but I’m not thinking about it either. I’m out there playing hard and playing the way I need to play to be successful out there.
“You start second-guessing yourself out there and that’s when you get in trouble. I’m just going to go out there and play hard and play the way I play. But, I’m not worried about that at all.”