History on tap, Patriots WR Welker set for Texans


History on tap, Patriots WR Welker set for Texans

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Jerry Rice never did it. Neither did Marvin Harrison. On Monday night, Wes Welker takes his swing for it.

Just eight more catches and the New England Patriots standout receiver will achieve another of his many milestones that he insists he doesn't dwell on.

He'll break a tie with those retired stars and become the first player with 100 receptions in five different seasons.

Is he looking forward to it? Is he excited for it? Does he even care?

``Maybe when I'm done playing,'' Welker said Friday. ``But right now, I'm just focused on however many catches I need to get to help us win.''

Welker has a decent chance to make those eight grabs on Monday night when the New England Patriots (9-3) face the Houston Texans (11-1) in a marquee AFC matchup.

After all, he's averaging 7.3 receptions per game in his six seasons since being traded from Miami, and he traditionally comes up big in key games.

He could add that mark to a long list of accomplishments on Monday:

- Welker is tied with Rice in NFL history with 17 games of at least 10 catches.

- Welker is on pace to break a tie with Cris Carter as the only player to catch 120 passes in a season twice.

- Welker has the most receptions in the past six seasons (646), by a large margin over Brandon Marshall (565).

And what really matters is this. The Patriots have won six in a row and they are already AFC East champions as they welcome the conference's top team.

``There's nothing more important in Wes's life than being a football player and thinking about football and making the big play and running the right route and getting open when it's most important,'' quarterback Tom Brady said. ``That's what quarterbacks dream about.''

Grabbing 100 passes seemed far from certain early in the season. Getting on the field, in fact, was a bigger issue.

Welker took part in just 70.5 percent of the offensive snaps in the first two games after participating in 88.9 percent of them during the 2011 regular season. Julian Edelman even started in his place in the second game.

``It's a long season so you just keep on battling, keep on working hard,'' Welker said Friday. ``That doesn't change, even now.''

Coach Bill Belichick never explained his reasoning, and Welker said he felt ``fine'' physically.

In the season opener against Tennessee, Welker sat out 25 of the 67 offensive snaps. But in the past four games, he missed a total of just 23 plays.

And in Sunday's 23-16 win over Miami, he had 12 catches for 103 yards, and was thrown to 18 times.

Now, he has an NFL-high 92 snares - one more than Marshall - and is seventh with 1,064 yards receiving.

And because of injuries - Edelman is out for the season with a foot injury suffered last Sunday, and tight end Rob Gronkowski is likely to miss his third straight game with a broken forearm - Brady could be looking for Welker even more than usual.

``There's pressure on everybody,'' Welker said. ``Everybody's got to step up.''

He prefers not to look back at the knee injury he suffered at Houston in the last game of the 2009 season that forced him to miss the playoffs. It's all about moving forward for Welker.

After all, that is the New England way.

``I'm really trying not to think about it too much. (I) appreciate you bringing that up,'' Welker said with a grin. ``I've just moved on from it and just worked hard and tried to get better.

``And, luckily, I'm where I'm at today.''

He also won't look ahead to where he might be next season, once his $9.5 million, one-year deal that came with his franchise tag expires. There will be a time to think about contracts. This weekend is not that time.

``I'm not worried about a contract at all,'' he said.

And when he says that, you get the sense that he means it. His statistics might not be this good otherwise.

In fact, special teams captain and wide receiver Matthew Slater has admired Welker's ``professionalism'' in the five years they've been teammates.

``A guy like that who's been able to accomplish all that he has here, he never loses his sense of urgency. He never loses the respect that you have to have for this game,'' Slater said. ``It would be easy for a guy like that to take a couple of days off or not practice as hard here and there, but he doesn't.''

That can motivate his teammates, of course. Yet another trait synonymous with the Patriots.

``If you see a guy who's caught 100 balls every year working harder than everybody else, you definitely better be working as hard as you can,'' Slater said. ``There's no room for slacking.''

So, as expected, Welker is preparing diligently to face the Texans and a secondary that's banged up. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph was limited in practice Friday after missing the past two games with a hamstring injury and Houston coach Gary Kubiak said a decision on whether he'll play will be made in the next couple of days.

Joseph said he expects to play. But nickel cornerback Brice McCain had surgery on his left foot on Monday and Alan Ball missed the previous game with a sore foot.

``You don't have as much film'' on players who will fill in, Welker said. ``But you can still study the games that they are in there, and really try and get an edge.''

Welker usually does.

As a slot receiver, he catches passes at the line of scrimmage as well as quick slants, then does a good job running after the catch.

He also can take advantage of certain defensive formations and break down the field. And he makes key contributions even when the ball is thrown to someone else. He doesn't give up on plays.

That's not likely the change.

``He busts his butt harder than anybody to make sure he's doing his job to clear out on a certain route or to take some coverage with him so another guy can get the ball,'' Brady said. ``I think that's what makes Wes really special, is his selflessness as a player.

``But the ball always seems to find a way to him.''


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Oklahoma star freshman Trae Young to enter NBA Draft

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Oklahoma star freshman Trae Young to enter NBA Draft

After a sensational freshman season at the University of Oklahoma, point guard Trae Young plans to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, according to a report by ESPN.

Young will be one of the most fascinating prospects in this class given the extreme highs and lows of his one college season. He vaulted into the top 10 in most mock drafts after beginning his freshman year on fire, but then began to slip over the final months as his shooting percentage dropped.


Right now the Wizards are lined up to be in the late teens, so it's unlikely he falls to their range. But at this point it's difficult to predict where he will go, whether that is top five or later in the lottery.

It really could go either way. Some teams may see him as a Steph Curry-like scorer who can hit shots from unusually deep range. There were certainly times where Young backed up those comparisons.

Teams could see his flaws as a result of opposing defenses honing in on him because they could at the college level. In the NBA he may have more space and therefore be able to play to his strengths.


Or, teams could look at the fact he shot 36.1 percent from three on a whopping 10.2 attempts per game as a sign he is a chucker. He also led the nation in turnovers, commiting 24 more than the next guy. Young averaged 5.2 giveaways per game.

While Curry is the best-case scenario, Jimmer Fredette may be the worst-case. Fredette was the 10th overall pick in 2011 and now plays in China. 

Young will be an intriguing prospect in the draft because the ceiling is high and the basement is low. 

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Redskins bring in another defensive lineman for free agency visit, per source


Redskins bring in another defensive lineman for free agency visit, per source

The Redskins hosted Sylvester Williams for a free agency visit on Tuesday morning, per a source with knowledge of the situation. 

Williams played in 2017 with the Titans, logging 20 tackles in 11 starts. Tennessee released Williams this offseason, just one year into a three-year, $16 million deal. 

Drafted in the first round by the Broncos in 2013, the 6-foot-3, 313 lbs. Williams' stat line has never really popped. That isn't uncommon for a nose tackle though, as the job is less about tackles than it is holding leverage against the interior of an offensive line. 


Should the Redskins sign 29-year-old Williams, it would represent the first true nose tackle free agency addition since Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton joined the team in 2015 from Denver. In an ironic twist, Williams took over at nose in Denver when Knighton left for Washington, and posted his best season as a Bronco. 

Washington restructured its deal with Terrell McClain, reported first by ESPN, which could allow more flexibility to add another defensive lineman. That could come in the draft, but the club has been very active talking with free agents to play on the defensive front. 

On Monday, Johnathan Hankins and Pernell McPhee visited with Redskins officials in Ashburn. Hankins would carry the heaviest price tag, but his past performance would also indicate the most promise. 

McPhee is an edge rusher with enough bulk to play against the run as well. Williams compares more with Hankins, and could be seen as the secondary option.

Among 79 nose tackles Pro Football Focus graded, Williams ranked 36th. For comparison, Bengals star Geno Atkins ranked No. 1, Dontari Poe ranked 26th, former Redskin Chris Baker ranked 65th and current Redskin Ziggy Hood ranked 79th. 

It's also worth noting that since the Titans released Williams, should the Redskins sign the nose tackle, his contract would not count towards the NFL compensatory pick formula. 

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