Welker back on the field after suspension lifted

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Although excited to see his suspension cut in half, Wes Welker acknowledged Wednesday that missing a couple of games was probably for the best.

Coming off his third concussion in a 10-month span, the veteran receiver had no choice but to watch on TV as Denver got off to a 2-0 start heading into Sunday's showdown at Seattle.

"You always hate to miss any time at all," Welker said. "But especially with head injuries, every week and every day is a good thing for it. Not the way that I would have wanted it to happen. But it is what it is."

Welker was reinstated after the NFL agreed to a new performance-enhancing drug policy. The widely respected 11-year NFL veteran had been suspended for four games but can return Sunday under the new rules in which players who test positive for banned stimulants in the offseason will no longer be suspended right away. Instead, they will be referred to the substance-abuse program, where it takes multiple positive tests before being banned.

"I said it was flawed and we got it fixed," said Welker, who tested positive for amphetamines in the offseason.

After Welker's latest head injury, fans, columnists and other pundits chimed in with suggestions the pin-balling 5-foot-9 receiver should just walk away from the game for his own good.

"I appreciate their concern, I really do," Welker said. "But at the same time, I feel great. I feel sharp and I feel ready to go."

Whether Welker is ready to return to his perch as the league's premier slot receiver is the question.

"We didn't just throw him back in there and run him every rep," coach John Fox said. "We'll be smart about that. He is a veteran player, vary familiar with our offense, so the mental aspect is not problematic. But just getting back his timing, getting the burn in his chest, getting him in shape and getting him ready."

Wednesday marked Welker's first practice since Labor Day and just his second in 25 days.

"Obviously, being out a couple of weeks it isn't easy," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "If practice wasn't important, why would anybody do it? So, I do think it's important. I think this will be a good gauge to see how he feels and for us to see how he looks, as well."

Welker said he needed to knock some rust off, but receiver Bubba Caldwell said if that's the case, it was hard to tell.

"He's definitely in good shape. He's one of those guys you don't have to worry about," Caldwell said. "He was away for two weeks but he handled his business. He worked out and ran. So we don't expect any drop-off."

Welker was cleared medically last week from his latest head injury, which occurred Aug. 23. Houston Texans defender D.J. Swearinger hit him in the head as he slid following a short catch over the middle in the preseason. That drew the ire of Manning, who gave the swaggering safety a piece of his mind.

That resulted in the first personal foul flag and fine of the five-time MVP's career. Welker said he appreciated Manning having his back.

"You don't really see him like that too often," Welker said. "And I think he takes a lot of pride in the fact that he got fined for it. But, you know, it's always good to see teammates come together and try to lift each other up and take care of each other."

Without Welker, the Broncos have relied heavily on two-tight end sets with five of Manning's six TD throws going to tight ends.

Notes: K Brandon McManus was limited in practice with a strained groin but said, "It's no big deal. I've dealt with them before and it just slows me down for a day or two. I'll be fine for the game." ... LB Danny Trevathan jogged on the side for the first time since breaking his left leg Aug. 12. ... DT Marvin Austin is expected back at practice Thursday. He's been in North Carolina following his father's serious auto accident Sunday. ... S David Bruton (shoulder) returned to practice, and LB Von Miller (groin) was a full participant.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL


Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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