IRVING (AP) Orlando Scandrick spent part of his bye weekend getting to know Wes Welker. On the flights to and from Los Angeles last week, the Cowboys cornerback studied game film of Welker.
Even while visiting friends and family, Scandrick carved out time to try understanding how New England’s little receiver keeps making such big plays – and trying to figure out how he can prevent them when Dallas plays Welker and the Patriots on Sunday.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Scandrick said. “He does everything 100 percent, full speed. He works.”
Many Cowboys fans have known about Welker since his days at Texas Tech, when he was an undersized guy making big plays in Mike Leach’s wacky offense. Few folks figured that would translate to the NFL, yet the hardworking Welker seems to get better every year.
This season, his eighth, Welker is putting together what could become among the greatest seasons by a receiver in NFL history.
Welker has an NFL-best 45 catches for an NFL-best 740 yards through five games. He’s on pace for 144 catches and 2,368 yards; the league records are 143 catches (by Marvin Harrison in 2002) and 1,848 yards (by Jerry Rice in 1995).
“I just think he’s a remarkable football player,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who was the quarterbacks coach in Miami when Welker played there. “You should watch Wes Welker in practice. I think if you came from Mars and never saw football before, you’d say, ‘Wow! Who is that guy?’ Because he is 100 miles an hour every minute of every day. His success is not by accident. … He is a relentless competitor. Maybe as much as anybody I’ve been around, he’s able to take that tempo and how he practices to the game field.”
The Cowboys saw what kind of pest Welker can be when these teams last met, in 2007. Welker caught 11 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns as New England steamrolled Dallas 48-27.
Welker’s work ethic, attitude and ability obviously is appreciated by Tom Brady. The chemistry they’ve developed over their five seasons together is another factor in their remarkable start this season. Brady, too, is on pace to shatter all sorts of passing records.
“They know what each other is going to do,” Scandrick said.
Garrett played in Dallas when Troy Aikman had that type of connection with Michael Irvin and Jay Novacek, and he’s seen it develop again with Tony Romo and Jason Witten.
“I think it’s a security blanket for the quarterback, knowing that whatever situation happens, somehow I can find that guy and he’s going to get me out of Dodge,” Garrett said. “I think you see that on a weekly basis up there in New England.”
So, how can the Cowboys prepare for it? Garrett said it gets back to the same plan the defense has every week, only it’s more difficult.
“You try to somehow disrupt them, get them out of rhythm, get the quarterback feeling uncomfortable — the same thing with the receiver — so somehow that synchronicity they have goes away,” Garrett said. “But, just put the tape on. They play pretty well in a lot of different situations.”
Witten admires the Brady-Welker tandem and recognizes that they share the same sixth sense he and Romo have. Witten also pointed out that it’s not luck.
“Tony and I have worked on that a lot, that regardless of what the coverage is, what the down and distance is, and where you’re at, we’re going to find a way to make a play,” he said. “I think it’s a trust that you’re going to find a way.
Welker does most of his damage out of the slot. Scandrick’s specialty is covering slot receivers, which is why all eyes will be on their matchup.
Scandrick is good enough at what he does to have earned a $27 million, five-year contract extension during training camp. However, he’s missed the last three games with a high ankle sprain. The only benefit was that he knew right away he would be returning for this game, and this matchup. Thus, he had more time to study Welker and try to figure out why a very good receiver has turned into a historically great threat at age 30.
“This is the first time he’s pretty much started running vertical,” Scandrick said. “A lot of people don’t expect him to run vertical, so when he runs vertical, it’s normally a big play.”
Scandrick also pointed out that Welker not only makes guys miss, he breaks tackles, too.
“I’ve seen plays where he’s dragging linebackers,” Scandrick said. “So I think he’s very strong.”
Knowing Welker like he does, Garrett isn’t surprised. He’s seen Welker turn short passes into long gains as well as haul in deep passes. “He’s just a very difficult guy to cover,” Garrett said. “He has a variety of routes that he runs. He’s very reliable. He’s very quarterback friendly.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)