ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- **Broncos Head Coach John Fox made it clear on Wednesday just how much Wes Welker's presence has been felt in the wide receiver's first season with the Broncos.
He also didn't hesitate to make it clear whether Welker has lived up to his billing as a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro.
"He's been exactly what we thought we were getting," Fox said. "Even people in the New England organization said that we would enjoy coaching him, and we have. He came in, made a pretty big impact. The fact that he was voted captain and just got here is a pretty good indicator of what his peers and teammates think of him. He's fit in in exactly what we thought he would be, and that's important."
Welker finished his regular-season campaign with 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns despite playing in only 13 games. After missing the regular season's final three weeks with a concussion, Welker returned to action in the Broncos' 24-17 win over the Chargers in the AFC Divisional Round, hauling in six catches for 38 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Peyton Manning in the second quarter.
Through it all, Welker has displayed a tenacious work ethic that Manning noted has made the wide receiver "a fun guy to play with."
"A lot of things that I think a lot of people thought about Wes as an opponent all proved to be true once he joined us as a teammate," he said. "I always assumed that he was an extremely competitive guy that loved football and a guy that loved to work, he loved to practice. The way he played – I saw him many a time play Colts versus the Patriots – so to have him become a Bronco, all those things checked out."
Manning underlined Welker's attention to detail and passion for the game as attributes that help set him apart.
"He's a gym rat. He loves the game, loves to work after practice, loves to talk in meetings about routes that he thinks might have a chance to get open," Manning said. "He's very knowledgeable of defenses and how teams have played him in the past, whether they've double-covered him or whatever it may be. So he's been a fun guy to play with, I'll say that."
Welker was just as quick to return that praise to his quarterback – as well as his former teammate, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Welker noted that part of the greatness of both legendary quarterbacks in Sunday's AFC Championship Game lies in the way that they have elevated – and continue to elevate – the play of their teammates around them. "I think with just the way they go about their business and the way they study," Welker said. "The way they keep guys accountable, the way show it by what they do on the field and off the field and preparing and they just keep guys accountable and make sure everyone is doing their jobs and when they're not, letting them know when they're not and staying on top of everybody."
"If there are two guys that you want quarterbacking your team," Welker said, "it's a toss-up between those two."
Now, as he prepares to face his former team for the second time this season, Welker noted that the Broncos' 34-31 overtime loss at New England in Week 12 doesn't loom over his thoughts – although he added that there were lessons to be learned from that game.
"I think you look back at the game, but at the same game it's a new game, the style is different, the way we go about things, the weather will be different—a lot of those different things," Welker. "You take a lot from it, but at the same time you don't dive in to it too much or over-analyze it or anything else. You just try to get ready the best you can and understand the game is not going to be totally the same, but still do your homework from the last one." And although the rematch with the Patriots comes with much more on the line this time around, Welker noted that he is ultimately most concerned with the opportunity at hand, not his past history with his opponent.
"It's still another game," Welker said. "You understand it is the AFC Championship and everything like that. You want to go out there and prepare as much as possible. At the same time, it is still an opponent and it's a team and you're going out there and playing to the best of your ability and go out there and try to win the game."