Welker back to San Diego

It wasn't that long ago that unheralded and undrafted free agent Wes Welker was making waves in Chargers' camp. But after being cut, he turned down the chance to join the Bolts' practice squad and chose to sign on Miami's squad instead.

The move paid off for Welker as he was elevated to the active roster soon thereafter. And the Chargers search for a viable return man continued – until they selected Darren Sproles in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft.

"We wanted to keep players who would help us in the kicking game," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said of originally adding Wes Welker to the active roster.

Welker returns to the scene of his first camp this week – not bitter but determined, especially against the team that cut him.

"I want to have a good game, absolutely," said Welker. "That goes every week. I'm looking to try and make plays every time I step on the field. This is no different for me, I'm just going to treat it like any other game and just come out firing and ready to play."

In his first preseason, Welker returned 12 punts for 175 yards for a 14.6 average. He ranked fifth in the NFL in punt return average and took one to the house.

The diminutive undrafted rookie out of Texas Tech was becoming a player that the fans loved.

His work in the kickoff return phase wasn't as heralded that preseason, his 19.7 average was not in the top 20, as he struggled to find running room in the Chargers' blocking scheme.

Still, he made it through the final cuts and was placed on the Chargers active roster.

He debuted with San Diego in Houston where he returned four kickoffs for 102 yards with a long of 33.

Three days later he was cut so the team could add Clinton Hart to the roster.

"I was kind of shocked when that happened," Welker admitted. "But I didn't really see that side of the business, I was a rookie, I was like, ‘Oh, I made the team.' I didn't know they cut people through the year, I didn't know anything. Yeah, it was shocking for me because it was like, ‘Oh, I made the team, I'm on it for the year.' Yeah, I had no idea, so I was out of whack for a couple of days, like, ‘what just happened here?'"

The turk was Marty Schottenheimer.

"He was a total class act about it," Welker recalled. "He took me in his office and he said, I'd love to have you on the practice squad, we're just short on defensive backs right now and they needed to bring in another guy there and get some depth there. I was just a numbers guy, and that's kind of how it goes sometimes."

The Chargers had a surplus of guys who could at least fill the role of returner. Eric Parker was already fielding punts and Tim Dwight was still on the roster – a formidable return man during his heyday. Welker was expendable.

Six days after being cut, the Dolphins picked him up. And five days after that he was back on the field as a returner.

"I had other offers to be on other practice squads," said Welker. "Miami wanted me to be on the practice squad here and it seemed like the best situation, so I was going to be on the practice squad. Then when I got here, a few days after I was here, they activated me.

"From what I was told, they were looking for a return man. I guess their return man got hurt and they picked up another guy off waivers or something and if San Diego would have released me the week before they said they would have picked me up. It just seemed like a better fit for me as far as being able to return and do things like that."

Welker returned 43 punts for a 10.8 average in 2004, including seven that went for 20-plus yards. He also added 61 kickoff returns for a 23.2 average.

But Welker's rookie season will be remembered for the 29-yard field goal and extra point he connected on against New England.

He became the first player in NFL history to have a kickoff return, a punt return, a field goal, a successful PAT and kickoff in the same game, earning Special Teams Player of the Week honors.

The Dolphins have been pleased with his performance, benefiting from the Chargers' loss.

After not catching a single pass in 2004, Welker has snared 26 through 12 games this year and has a 15.2 average per catch with 17 of his receptions converting first downs.

The jack-of-all-trades has found a home after being tossed aside.

"He's just relentless," quarterback Gus Frerotte explained. "He runs as fast as he can, it seems, into a wall of people and then all of a sudden he's in and making plays on offense. We ask him to do a lot and he comes through. He practices hard. The way you guys see him play, that's how he practices. He does a nice job for us."

After a year of special teams hell, Sproles has solidified the kickoff return game for San Diego. Perhaps it all worked out for the best for both sides.

"Younger players with speed, that have an opportunity to be active and be involved in what we are doing in every phase of the kicking game," Schottenheimer emphasized of Sproles addition to the squad.

Alain Poupart contributed to this report.


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