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Ask PFW: What now without Welker

This week's Ask PFW focuses on the devastating injury to New England's Pro Bowl wide receiver, Wes Welker.

Since it sounds like Wes Welker's done for the year, would the Patriots still be allowed to sign a free agent? Would Reche Caldwell or David Givens be options? Both are out of work and have worked with Brady and might be able to provide depth. If they sign one of them, which one would they sign? Thanks.
Jacob Meseke

Being so thin at a receiver, I wonder about bringing Marvin Harrison for the playoffs. There are a hundred good reasons not to bring the old Colt, but what if he proves that an 8-time Pro Bowler has some magic left by helping us beat the Chargers and his old team?Dan Truebeck

Come playoff time, teams that make the post-season can make a limited number of transactions, including signing free agents to their active roster as needed. To be clear, a free agent, in this particular case, is NOT a player (e.g. Deion Branch or Terrell Owens) who was on another team this past year and is scheduled to be on the free agent market this coming offseason; it is a player who was not on another team's active roster at the end of the regular season. Caldwell, Givens, and Harrison are all in that category – they had been and are currently out of football. So, theoretically, the Patriots could sign any of these players. They won't, however, because none is an attractive option. They are all far beyond the point of being useful at this level.
Erik Scalavino

So with Welker presumably headed to IR, that opens up a roster spot. With Isaiah Stanback already on our 53-man roster and Terrence Nunn in Tampa Bay (a real bummer there – I liked the guy), what options do we have if we want to refill our WR depth?
Philip Antin

In all likelihood, the Patriots will have to stick with what they have: Stanback, rookie Julian Edelman, Sam Aiken, and even Matthew Slater to complement Randy Moss. They may also be forced to call up first-year player Darnell Jenkins from the practice squad, if only to provide some depth. Not a very comforting thought, I know, but that's the reality of the situation.
Erik Scalavino

What is the timeframe for a receiver to recover from this kind of injury? Is it career threatening?
Kyle Witkoski

From the reports we're seeing, it appears Welker suffered a nearly identical injury to the one QB Tom Brady did in 2008 (torn anterior cruciate and medial collaterl ligaments – ACL and MCL – in the left knee). And we all know that by the following spring, Brady was back on the practice field with his teammates for mini-camp. Best-case scenario: if Welker undergoes surgery this month, then he'll probably be out of action till late summer, it would seem.

Once upon a time, an injury of this magnitude would have ended a player's career right then and there. But in this day and age, such procedures are routine and Welker will almost certainly take the field again. The question you should be asking is, will he be the same player he's been the past three seasons here in New England? Sadly, that's impossible to answer at the moment.
Erik Scalavino

Guys, my question goes to Bill Belichick's comments about the Houston field condition and its contribution to Wes Welker's injury. I was at the game in Houston and saw players warming up at least 90 minutes before kickoff, as well as BB out there walking around before the game. When is it the head coach's responsibility to possibly forfeit a game if he finds the field conditions terrible? Has this ever been done before? My feeling is if the field was that bad, he should not have let his team play and risk injury. The responsibility is on Houston, but also BB.
John in Dallas

I read Belichick's comments, too, which he made during his regularly scheduled appearance on WEEI radio in Boston. And having actually walked on the Reliant Stadium field after the game, I can confirm that it was indeed soggy, as some players, including Edelman, described it afterwards. The field was a patchwork of grass, with the end zones and the midfield logo area having been replaced just days after the Texas Bowl between Navy and Missouri was played there on New Year's Eve. The area where Welker was injured – out near the numbers – was the same surface the college game was played on. It wasn't the greatest turf I've ever seen, but it certainly wasn't the worst.

For example, before the Patriots switched to their current FieldTurf surface in 2006, they played a game against the Miami Dolphins, if memory serves, in which sand was tossed up in huge clouds, and later, in a loss to the Jets, when chunks of grass and mud were being ripped up on every play. That was a much worse field than the one the Patriots saw in Houston last Sunday. I can't recall an NFL coach ever refusing to play a game because of field conditions. When asked about any recourse he could take with the league, Belichick refused to answer today at his daily press briefing. Bottom line: if Welker hadn't been hurt, the field condition topic would never have been brought up because it really wasn't that much of an issue.
Erik Scalavino

As most of Patriot Nation, I am very saddened by the loss of Welker, but I think that talent-wise we have enough to overcome the loss. My question is, where is that talent going to come from? Many feel that Edelman, who I think will pick up a lot of the load, but how about the tight end position? Is there a reason why we hardly use the position in the passing game? I feel like Benjamin Watson and Chris Baker are pretty good receiving threats, but they are rarely utilized. Am I not seeing something? Are they not getting separation? Are they strictly being left to block?Chuck Ackerson

So, let me get this straight, Chuck - you believe there's enough talent on this offense to overcome the loss of Welker, yet you can't pinpoint where that talent is going to come from? Sounds to me like you don't even believe your own argument. Fact is, Edelman was just starting to come into his own as a number-three option, but now he's forced into the number-two spot. And I've seen nothing from the rest of the roster to give me any optimism that someone will suddenly emerge as a viable threat on the outside opposite Moss.

With regard the tight ends, it's icing on the cake to have a tight end who's a primary receiving threat – an Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez type. But teams that have tight ends in that role typically don't have great crops of wide receivers. So, expecting Watson and/or Baker to take on an added role is a double-edged sword, it would seem. Yes, it would be nice if they could provide some help, but that would mean that your wide receivers aren't pulling their own weight. New England has tried to get the tight ends involved in the offense, but not with any consistency this year. I agree with your point, though. There's no better time than now to give them more opportunities.
Erik Scalavino

Will Jerod Mayo ever be more than just a productive player? Will he be the playmaker we're all hoping he becomes?Pascal Rawls-Philippe

That's a really difficult question to answer, Pascal. I believe Mayo has the ability to become that kind of player. And I expected to see him make more of a leap from last year to this, but then he hurt his knee in the opener. Perhaps that set him back a bit when he returned. Perhaps the scheme and what he was asked to do in it also were also factors. Whatever the reason, he's had about the same type of season he had a year ago. That's not the kind of growth we're looking for, but it's also too early to abandon any hopes that he'll get there one day.
Erik Scalavino

Do you think Laurence Maroney will play another snap in New England? I remember a player named Doug Gabriel. He was an emerging receiver when he lost a crucial fumble against the Jets. He was benched for the rest of that game and never played again. Maroney was an emerging running back, lost a crucial fumble and has not played since. Same situation?
Andrew Grigg

No. Completely different, actually. Gabriel was a so-so player for whom the Patriots traded to help boost an utterly desperate wide receiver roster. Expectations were low from the get-go with him. Maroney is a former first-round pick, meaning it's in the team's best interest to give him every opportunity to succeed. Gabriel wasn't getting it here, and that fumble against the Jets was the straw that broke the camel's back. Maroney has lost more than one crucial fumble this year and has been given chances thereafter, save the Jacksonville game, in which he was benched. My guess is he'll be in uniform on Sunday against the Ravens. Next season - well, that's another story. We'll deal with that when the time comes.
Erik Scalavino

Now that Buffalo's Bobby April is out of there, do you see the Pats making a move on him? One has to like him back with Sam Aiken and teaching youngsters like Slater, Edelman and Darius Butler the ropes. Yes? No? Maybe?
Roy Kiesler

Again - no. I'd be shocked if the Patriots parted with Scott O'Brien. He and Belichick go way back and there have been no major issues with special teams in O'Brien's first year with this team. April will get a job somewhere in the NFL, but most likely not in New England.
Erik Scalavino

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