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Mystery surrounds Welker's diminished playing time

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Wes Welker caught more passes over the past five seasons than any other NFL player. So why is he spending more time on the New England Patriots sideline this year?

Newcomer Brandon Lloyd has taken over the top receiving spot and three-year backup Julian Edelman has improved while Welker was involved in an offseason contract dispute and could leave as a free agent after this year. Or maybe he's hurting and the Patriots want him to be fresher for the second half of the season.

It could be all of the above. Or none.

Welker said he feels "great." And he and his teammates downplay his decreased usage in the first two games, while coach Bill Belichick questions whether it's even been diminished.

Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL