FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Julian Edelman doesn’t want to be the second coming of Wes Welker.
He wants Welker, the New England Patriots’ wide receiver who is returning from a brutal knee injury, to be Wes Welker, to be running pass patterns and making catches.
Edelman, a second-year receiver for the Patriots, would like people to stop comparing him to Welker, who has more receptions (346) than any other receiver in the NFL since he joined the Patriots in 2007.
“It’s unfair to him,” said Edelman after New England’s 27-24 victory against New Orleans in the exhibition opener Thursday night. “He’s the best slot (receiver) in the game. I learn everything (from him). I learn how to be a professional. I learn how to prepare. I learn how to run routes.
“It was a blessing to come here and sit behind a guy like that, and watch him practice and run routes and how he prepares. Wes has been a huge part of helping me develop and still is. He’s out there and he’s running routes and I’m still learning things watching his film. It’s great to have him around.”
And the Patriots are learning it’s great to have Edelman around. As Welker continues his remarkable recovery from last January’s devastating left knee injury — he tore both the ACL and MCL in the Patriots’ regular-season finale at Houston — Edelman continues to make strides.
Welker, who has been cleared medically to practice, didn’t play Thursday, and Edelman again put on a show. He caught all six passes thrown his way for 90 yards and returned two punts for 43 yards, including a 40-yarder that set up the game’s first score.
Throughout the night, he made Saints defenders miss as he escaped from some precarious situations, where it looked like he had no escape.
“That’s what every guy should be (doing) when they have the ball in their hands,” he said. “That’s what we get paid to do, right? Make guys miss.”
Someone suggested to him that Edelman looked like a different player on the field this year as opposed to his rookie season.
“I’m more familiar with the offense but I don’t feel like a different player,” he said. “Any time I have the ball I’m going to run hard.”
The Patriots are fortunate to have Edelman. He was the 232nd player selected in the 2009 draft, picked in the seventh round. And he was a quarterback at Kent State, where he threw for 4,997 yards and 30 touchdowns, while rushing for 2,664 yards and 23 scores.
His transformation into a dangerous NFL slot receiver has been, well, astounding.
“For a guy who had never played receiver until a little over a year ago, he does a lot of things well,” said Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, who seldom throws any praise at any player. “And he’s still learning and he’s still getting better and he still works hard. He made some plays (Thursday) with the ball in his hands.”
That Edelman has made the transition look easy isn’t so surprising to the Patriots. He fits their mold.
“He works hard,” said Belichick. “He pays attention to little things. Julian is one of those players that when you ask him to work on something, he really puts everything into it and tries to do what the coaches ask him to do and improve. He’s improved steadily since he’s been here.”
Safety Patrick Chung simply called Edelman, “a baller.” that, he meant that Edelman can play.
“He’s tough, he runs hard,” said Chung. “He has that little- man syndrome but he’s good.”
Edelman, who is listed at 5-foot-10, 198 pounds, tries not to listen to that kind of talk. Based on his rookie season — he caught 37 passes for 359 yards and one touchdown (then caught six passes for 44 yards and two touchdowns replacing Welker in the playoff loss to Baltimore) — expectations have been raised.
He’s trying to temper them.
“I’ve got to prepare like I prepared last year to do my job,” he said. “You’ve got to manage those expectations.”
But they’ll get higher after performances like Thursday’s. On New Orleans’ first punt, Edelman caught the ball at the Patriots’ 41, sidestepped a tackler, shrugged off another, slipped through another and ran down the right sideline for 40 yards, setting up a 35-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.
On the Patriots’ next possession, he made another jaw-dropping play.
Taking a quick pass from Tom Brady in the right flank, Edelman made a quick head-and-shoulders move, making Saints cornerback Jabari Greer miss. Then he ran 21 yards to the Saints’ 16, leading eventually to a touchdown run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Afterward, Edelman said that he knows he can’t slack off.
“I still have a long ways to go,” he said. “I’ve got to keep working hard, taking my notes and preparing real hard every week.
“There were a couple of mistakes left out there on the field and I’ve got to go out there and get that fixed. We’ll watch the film and I’m sure there’s probably more (mistakes) and I’m going to get yelled at.
“I’ll just take that and bring it to next week’s practice and get ready for next week’s game.”
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: