Welker cleared, practices Sunday

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Recovering New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker has been removed from the active/physically unable to perform list and practiced with the team Sunday morning.

Welker, wearing a black brace over his left knee, went through agility and individual drills at full speed. But when the Patriots went to full-team 11-on-11 work, both defensively and on special teams, Welker worked on the opposite field with members of the strength and training staff, and at one point caught passes from quarterback Tom Brady. He did not absorb any contact this morning in his first full-pads practice since tearing his ACL Jan. 3.

"We're not there yet, but every day we're getting a little closer," Welker said after the practice. "Slowly but surely, we're making progress."

Welker ran a variety of routes, worked on getting off the jam at the line of scrimmage, and zigzagged through orange cones before catching the football. At one point, he sprinted about 8 yards, stopped quickly and cut to his left before shifting direction to the opposite side to catch a pass.

Welker's arrival at practice Sunday morning was immediately spotted by the thousands of fans in attendance, who cheered his presence. Every time he caught a pass, the crowd erupted, which Welker said provided added motivation.

Welker's return to practice strengthens the possibility that he will be on the field for the Patriots' season-opener Sept. 12 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"Obviously, I'd like to be, but that's up to the coaches and doctors," he said. "We'll put it in their hands and see what they have to say about it."

Since Welker has been removed from the physically unable to perform list, he can no longer be placed on the list again.

When asked if he's thinking about the knee when making cuts and running routes, Welker said, "Not really. I'm obviously out there. If I thought I was favoring it or anything like that, I probably wouldn't be out here.

"It's feeling good so far. We're trying to get that muscle memory back of making those quick moves and get that stuff back."

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio commended Welker on his return to practice.

"He works hard, he's committed to football. … Wes is a unique guy, there is no question about it," Caserio said. "It's a tribute to him and his work ethic and competitiveness and toughness to get back on the field."

Sunday marks the fourth day of Patriots' training camp and the Patriots have two practices scheduled, at 9:30 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. Welker had missed five full-padded practices, but was seen working with the team's strength and conditioning staff off to the side in those sessions.

Sunday marked another step in his progression.

"I'm happy for today to finally get here," Welker said. "You all [say] it's quick, but it seems like a long time to me."

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.