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Welker actually likes change in umpire location

09.09.10 at 12:00 am ET
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Wes Welker may have lost one of his advantages this season with the movement of the umpire. (AP)

FOXBORO — Over the last three years, few slot receivers have done a better job at going over the middle than Wes Welker. Since arriving in Foxboro prior to the 2007 season, Welker has spent plenty of time operating in that five- to seven-yard range, hauling in pass after pass from Tom Brady and scooting upfield for yardage after the catch.

The numbers are hard to dispute — in 14 games last season, Welker led the NFL with 123 receptions and finished second in receiving yards with 1,348. Since joining the Patriots prior to the 2007 season, he’s caught 346 passes, more than anyone else in the league in that time.

But some of his critics believe Welker has been able to gain that separation using the umpire as a pick. The thinking is that Welker would seek out the umpire in an attempt to try and “rub off” the defender — with that little extra daylight, he would make the catch and then turn upfield, leaving the defender tangled with the official.

While Welker isn’t the first pass-catcher to be accused of doing it, one official even went on the record with his thoughts last year. NFL umpire Paul King told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette the Patriots “do it all the time with [Wes] Welker. … [New England] likes to use [the umpire] as a pick.”

This season, the NFL has decreed the umpire will move from behind the defensive line to behind the offense, with the new positioning going into effect at the start of this past preseason. The league decided to make the move after several umpires had been injured in recent years in collisions with players — there were more than 100 occasions last season when umpires were knocked down by players.

On Wednesday, Welker was asked if he noticed any change in his offensive style as a result. He said the change in the umpires’ location is actually a relief, because it was the umpires who were getting in his way, not the other way around.

“I mean, they’ve said it’s always going to be an advantage to me, but I always felt like he got in my way more than he got in the defender’s way, to me,” Welker said of the umpire. “I’m actually kind of excited to have him out of the way, and let me work that middle.

“I never really noticed him a lot of the time when he was there. Only when he was in the way. Like I said, I always felt like he was in my way more than the defenders. Every once and a while, I’d get a good pick from him, and I was able to do something with it.”

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