Simple mantra suits Wes Welker, Pats
Wideout balks at chance to make bold proclamation, fuel rivalry with Jets
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Up against the ESPN training camp tour bus, Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker climbed the ladder that Jets coach Rex Ryan did 24 hours earlier.
Welker stared at the Jets team logo sticker affixed to the bus on which Ryan signed, "Soon to be champs."
Welker paused, glanced at the Patriots team logo on the bus and seemed to be thinking. Finally, he lifted the cap off the Sharpie, autographed his name and kept on writing just the way Ryan did.
Whereas as Terrell Owens in Cincinnati, Matthew Stafford in Detroit and Hines Ward in Pittsburgh had only autographed their names on the team logo sticker on the bus, Ryan became the first to break the mold. And Welker answered in a way that would make Patriots coach Bill Belichick proud.
"One game at a time," Welker wrote on the sticker next to Ryan's. As Welker stepped off the ladder, he looked at the crew there to film his signature and repeated the same words.
"One game at a time."
Sometimes it's easy to tell when a person is in New England.
Other observations from Patriots training camp:
• During a spot on WEEI radio Friday, former Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown predicted that quarterback Tom Brady's deal could be signed before New England's preseason opener Thursday night against the New Orleans Saints.
Brown, who was doing his first cohosting stint on the station, said Brady will not want to go into the preseason opener without a new long-term extension. Even though Brady might play only a series or two, Brown recalled that Brady tore up his knee on the first series of the first game against the Kansas City Chiefs two seasons ago. With those memories in mind, Brown believes there will be another push in the next week to lock up Brady for years to come.
• In each of the past two years, the Patriots have had 12 draft picks. All of last year's picks are back in this camp, giving New England an infusion of youth few teams in the league have. A number of second-year players -- offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, safety Patrick Chung, middle linebacker Tyrone McKenzie and wide receivers Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman -- are ready to become the next generation of Patriots.
This year's class is already making a mark as well. Belichick never would come out and say it, but the rookie making a big mark in camp is former Florida standout linebacker Brandon Spikes. When Belichick says someone is an interesting player to coach and that he sees things that other players don't, that's coachspeak for this guy has the chance to be the Real Deal.• New England is using the NFC South to improve itself for the coming season. The Saints are visiting the Patriots for two days of joint practices next week before their game Thursday. The following week, the Patriots will be conducting joint practices with the Falcons before playing them in Atlanta.
• Bill Walsh had his coaching tree and Bill Parcells had his, but very quietly, Belichick has put together one that could rival his predecessors. NFL coaches Jim Schwartz, Josh McDaniels and Eric Mangini learned under Belichick, as did college coaches Nick Saban and Kirk Ferentz. Also, Belichick has helped groom a number of NFL executives, including Baltimore's Ozzie Newsome, Atlanta's Thomas Dimitroff, Kansas City's Scott Pioli and the New York Jets' Mike Tannenbaum. Sometimes it is easy to overlook, or simply miss, how vast Belichick's sphere of influence actually is.• The toughest person at Friday's Patriots practices was not guard Stephen Neal or defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. It was 18-year-old Dan Hegarty of Beverly, Mass., who was visiting with Massachusetts General Hospital. Three years ago, Hegarty was diagnosed with leukemia. Now, he has been in remission for more than a year and is preparing to enter Salem State in the fall as a communications major.
"I aspire to be one of you guys one day," Hegarty told me.
If that's the case, every one of my journalistic brethren better worry about his job. Hegarty can do whatever he wants.
• And now, on to Albany, N.Y., and the New York Giants.
Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.