Historically, the third preseason game is the most like a regular season game. It's the exhibition contest in which the starters on both teams usually play the most, so it's seen as the last real tune-up before the games start to count in the standings.
This week, the Patriots are preparing for the their preseason game, a road affair against the Washington Redskins. For Wes Welker, who missed the first preseason game against Philadelphia but suited up last week against Cincinnati, every preseason game is a great opportunity, no matter how much action he sees. And he insists he holds nothing back when it comes to his on-field performance.
"Not at all. I'm out there, I want to win," the Pro Bowl wide receiver told reporters gathered around his locker Monday.
"That means running the plays the way they need to be run and doing what I need to do to get open. There's no holding back. You can't do that in this league. The players are too good.
"You're still out there preparing and making sure you run the offense the way you need to run it. You still look at the coverages teams like to run, which gives you an idea of what to expect on certain downs and distances. But first and foremost, it's about understanding our concepts."
That shouldn't be too difficult for a veteran like Welker, now in his third season with New England. But the Patriots have several new faces at the wide receiver position this year, so there's bound to be an adjustment period there. Welker was asked if he's trying to assume a leadership role by helping out the new players with the offense.
"You try to," he acknowledged. "We have a lot of veterans and everybody knows how to be a pro out there. Everybody handles their business. But we can offer insight on how to run routes in our system and the concepts that we're trying to run. You're always trying to lend a helping hand out there."
One player who's been a pleasant surprise in the passing is tight end Chris Baker. The free agent acquisition caught both of Tom Brady's touchdowns two weeks ago in Philly and has seen his workload increase during the absence of injured tight end Benjamin Watson.
"He's been a great surprise for us," Welker said in praise of Baker. "The way he understand coverages and how to run routes. He has good hands and is a good blocker. Anytime you have a veteran guy who understands how to do all those things, it definitely helps the team out."
Watson rebounds from injury
While he wouldn't disclose exactly what's kept him out of action this month, Watson did speak with reporters Monday in a roundabout way about his health status. He admitted, for instance, that he feels behind after having missed the bulk of practices and both preseason games to date.
"Definitely, as far as not being able to practice and doing the conditioning. That would be a big thing," Watson conceded. "It's one thing to understand what to do. It's another thing to go and do it. When you get back out there, you have to catch up a little bit, but it does help that I've been here before."
The veteran also claimed that he hasn't been pressured by his coaches or the team's medical staff to return immediately. Ultimately, he said, the decision lies with the coaching staff and trainers, but Watson insisted that he's put the most pressure on himself to get back on the field.
"There's always pressure that you put on yourself. You'd be surprised how little pressure the training staff and the coaches put on you. Usually, when you're an athlete, or whatever you do, you put pressure on yourself to be the best you can be. There's definitely pressure that I put on myself, but at the same time, if there's a reason why you can't perform, then … it is what it is."
There are now just four players, including Watson, on the roster at tight end, with the weekend release of Tyson DeVree. Nevertheless, Watson welcomed the remaining competition at his position.
"It's competitive like it should be. Like every position is every year. It's always competitive. It's the National Football League. Everybody's good, everybody wants to play, and everybody comes to play. That's what makes the league fun."
Monday locker room/practice notes
Jerod Mayospent a few minutes entertaining reporters at his locker before practice. He fielded several questions on a variety of topics, including fellow inside linebacker, Tedy Bruschi, who was back in uniform last week after missing the majority of training camp.
As a result of Bruschi's prolonged absence, there is growing speculation in media circles about what Bruschi's role will be with the Pats this season. One member of the media asked bluntly if Mayo could envision this Patriots team without the veteran Bruschi on the roster.
"I can't," the NFL's reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year responded, "but the NFL's a crazy business. Whatever happens, happens. It's good to have him around."
Out on the practice field, the news on the injury front was mixed Monday, as two players returned to action, while two others were absent. Watson was back in full pads, as was rookie OL George Bussey, who, like Watson, has missed significant time this preseason.
Safety Brandon McGowanand OL Dan Connollywere not seen during the media's portion of access to the start of practice. Others not seen included: QB Brian Hoyer, WR Julian Edelman, WR Brandon Tate(NFI list), CB Shawn Springs, RB Kevin Faulk, RB Sammy Morris, LB Paris Lenon, OL Mark LeVoir(PUP), DL Myron Pryor, and LB Shawn Crable.
CB Jonathan Wilhitecontinues to wear the red, no-contact jersey, but is otherwise in full pads.