The question: When will Wes Welker return to the practice field?
Three factors: The PUP list/roster flexibility; Welker’s long-term health; Surviving his absence
Finding the answer: Welker’s return to the practice field during OTAs in June – limited as it might have been – and into minicamp was as good a sign as could be expected that things are moving in the right direction. But there’s still a long way to go, given that he still has yet to participate in anything but individual drills.
The first step comes before training camp, when the club has to decide whether to put him on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list or not. If the team doesn’t, Welker becomes ineligible to go on the regular-season PUP (which would take him out through Week 6), and the only way the team could save his roster spot is by putting him on IR.
So it would make sense for the club to play it safe, and put him on the PUP at the start of camp to leave that possibility open, until there some certainty on his health. Remember, the minute he starts practicing, he’s off the PUP.
After that? Well, a Week 1 return from Welker is certainly a possibility (if not a probability), and there is precedent for that kind of speedy return.