Even if Wes Welker returns in time for the Sept. 12 season opener, it wouldn't be surprising if the Patriots limit his workload and relieve him of his duties as a punt returner. That would be a big void to fill, as Welker is excellent as a punt returner.
In 2009, he had 27 returns for an impressive 12.5 average (long of 69).
As a team last season, the Patriots ranked fifth-best in the NFL in terms of punt-return average (11.4). The regular-season returns broke down this way:
Wes Welker -- 27 (plus 16 fair catches)
Julian Edelman -- 6 (plus 1 fair catch)
Kevin Faulk -- 5 (plus 2 fair catches)
Monday's organized team activity put the spotlight on some possible options. In addition to Edelman and Faulk, receivers Brandon Tate and Buddy Farnham also took turns returning punts.
When looking at the group, Faulk is more of a situational "safety" type of option. His sure hands and sound judgment make him the type of returner who is more likely to get the call when it could be an inside-the-10-yard line type of punt.
With Farnham a long shot for a roster spot, it will probably be a battle between Edelman and Tate for the role, and their backgrounds as punt returners couldn't be more different.
Edelman was a college quarterback who was booed by fans at training camp last year as he was learning the skill and had trouble catching some punts (he later proved to be a quick study). Meanwhile, Tate holds the NCAA career record in combined kick and punt return yards (3,523).