FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Wes Welker drew attention Monday for eluding defenders. Teammate Patrick Chung got noticed for leveling a receiver.
The intensity is increasing at the New England Patriots training camp with players and coaches hurrying to catch up after team-organized minicamps and workouts were cancelled because of the lockout.
Welker made a sharp cut in front of Chung to grab a short pass from Tom Brady. Later, Chung delivered a hit that knocked Aaron Hernandez to the ground after the tight end made a catch.
The safety said practice is becoming more physical each day.
“Yeah,” Chung said, “but football’s a physical sport, man, period, whether it’s right in the trenches or if it’s downfield. If it gets physical, it gets physical, but we also have to take care of our teammates and take care of our bodies (and) save the physical stuff for the game.”
Tell that to Hernandez, who put a move on Chung after catching the ball. He wasn’t upright for long.
“I wasn’t expecting it but it was still a good little pop and it got me a little aggravated,” he said. “He plays hard and you’ve got to be ready at all times.”
Welker and Chung are both having good camps.
A year ago, the receiver was coming off major surgery on his left knee after he was injured in the final regular-season game of 2009. Now, he’s quicker, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said.
“Wes works hard,” Caserio said. “He’s been a productive player and he just looks confident. He just sort of catches your eye a little bit. He’s done some things that look real good.”
Welker was more emphatic about he feels heading into his eighth NFL season.
“This is the best I’ve felt in my career,” he said. “I think just my knowledge of the game and being able to be healthy (has) really helped and, hopefully, it’ll keep on improving.”
Welker has 432 catches in four seasons with the Patriots. But he can become an unrestricted free agent after this season unless he re-signs before then.
That’s hardly what he’s focusing on.
“I’m no really worried about that at all,” said Welker, who is scheduled to make $2.15 million this year. “I’m just worried about going out there and playing ball and I love playing on this team and I enjoy every day I’m out there. And I’m going to let my play take care of everything else.”
That’s all Chung says he cares about, no matter which other safety is on the field with him. Two-time Pro Bowl player Brandon Meriwether was a regular last year. But on Monday, Sergio Brown, who played 11 games last year after signing as a rookie free agent, spent considerable time with the first defensive unit.
“Whoever’s out there, you have to be able to play next to him,” said Chung, entering his third season. “We all know the same things. We all know our responsibilities. We all know what we have to do, regardless whose out there.”
James Sanders is among the Patriots top four safeties. They reportedly planned to bring in former New Orleans Saints safety Darren Sharper for a workout.
“I don’t think about it,” Chung said. “I’m right here trying to figure out what we’re doing right now with the guys that we have.”
Communication among the safeties has improved but “you’ve got to be perfect,” he said. “Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom — so you can play instinctively and play fast.”
And react quickly. That’s what Chung did when he drove Hernandez to the turf.
“Just a love tap, man,” Chung said. “We have pads on. (When) you have pads on, you have to go hard in practice. Sometimes there’s going to be a little more aggression than other times. You have to learn how to adapt to it, when (to) bring up the contact. But be safe at the same time.”
On the first play of the Patriots’ 47-12 preseason victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars last Thursday, Hernandez caught a 7-yard completion from Brian Hoyer but fumbled the ball away.
So the hit by Chung may have helped him prepare for more hits during games.
“You need to know what it’s like to get hit,” Hernandez said, “and when you get hit like that you need to learn how to hold onto the ball.”