A look at Wes Welker's ongoing recovery

New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker made a cameo appearance at the start of Thursday night's exhibition game against the Atlanta Falcons, leading his team out of the Georgia Dome tunnel and playing the first series.

It was Welker's first game action since shredding his left knee in last year's regular-season finale against the Houston Texans.

Welker was on the field for six snaps. Tom Brady maximized the time, completing passes of 6 and 14 yards to Welker on the first two plays. Brady also tried to hook up with Welker on a screen pass that fell incomplete. Welker absorbed a shot.

I called up ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell to get her take:

"He has to be able to play without thinking about the knee. That requires a level of confidence the knee's going to respond, going to do what you want it to do, going to hold up. That was getting over a hurdle. It's not just a scrimmage against the Saints, where players are being somewhat careful. It was a game situation. That just takes it up a notch. When he comes off the field, he can say 'OK. Now I did that.' It helps build that confidence with a piece that was missing.

"But people think it's a big deal that he took a hit. His injury was non-contact. I don't think Wes Welker's particularly worried about taking hits. I think it's more getting out and being in a competitive situation. What he told me was 'I need to know that I can make that move that I made before and have my knee hold up.' That's just getting out there and doing what Wes Welker does: make a catch underneath, make some kind of move to get away from a defender and get yards after the catch. That means a quick maneuver, a sharp cut, a slashing movement.

"I wouldn't jump to the conclusion he's automatically on the field Week 1. But I think it's a good indicator. Even if he does play, I still think they'll be conservative how they use him. This is a gradual process. I don't think you're going to see 'OK, go' and he's in the whole game. The more successes he has, the more they'll use him."