For Rams center Scott Wells, the 2012 season was a challenge.
By Joe Lyons
One of the team’s major offseason acquisitions, Wells signed a four-year, $24-million free agent contract following a 2011 campaign with the Green Bay Packers that finished with a trip to his first Pro Bowl.
A tough competitor, Wells was supposed to add grit, experience and stability to the middle of the Rams’ offensive line.
But his first season in St. Louis was limited by a series of injuries.
Wells, who stands 6 feet 2 and weighs 300 pounds, missed much of his first training camp in St. Louis after having knee surgery in the spring of 2012. He recovered in time for the season opener in Detroit but went down again in the opening half of the 27-23 loss with a broken foot, which forced him to the sideline for the next nine games.
Wells, who made 96 starts in eight seasons with Green Bay, re-injured the right knee in his first practice upon returning from the foot injury but battled to finish out the 7-8-1 regular season.
In January, he underwent an arthroscopic procedure to repair torn cartilage.
“It was a difficult season for a number of reasons,’’ Wells, 31, said following a recent practice at Rams Park in Earth City. “Through the first eight years of my career, I’d never been seriously injured. Like everybody, I dealt with some minor stuff, but I don’t think I’d ever missed more than two games in row. On top of that, I was with a new team and wasn’t able to do a whole lot to help. It was frustrating because I’d never dealt with anything like it before.’’
Wells continued: “But I feel great now and I’m really excited about this season.’’
Well said the offensive line’s strong finish a year ago – the team allowed 26 sacks in the first 10 games but just nine in the six after he returned to the lineup – provides something to build on.
“I know it helped me, getting a chance to get back into the lineup and play again last year,’’ he said. “Anytime you go into the second year of a system, I think the confidence level goes up and so do the expectations.
“Last year, even with all the injuries, I think we were able to establish a foundation. Now we just have to keep working toward that next level.’’
On a team loaded with youth, the offensive line is rich in experience, featuring Wells, right guard Harvey Dahl (seventh year), right tackle Rodger Saffold (fourth year) and left tackle Jake Long, a four-time Pro Bowler signed as a free agent in the offseason. Chris Williams (sixth year) and Shelley Smith (fourth season) are the current frontrunners in the battle at left guard.
Other offensive linemen in camp are Joe Barksdale (third season), Mizzou product Tim Barnes (second season), Brandon Washington (first season), Ryan Lee (first season), Ty Nsekhe (first season) and rookies Sean Hooey, Graham Pocic (Illinois) and Barrett Jones. Jones, a three-time national champion from Alabama, was a fourth-round draft choice in April.
“We’ve got a good group of guys competing and working to get better every day,’’ offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said following Monday’s practice. “And these guys are being pushed, going up against our defensive linemen. Every day, that’s just a dogfight.’’
Because of last year’s injuries, Smith made six starts at guard and Barksdale started a pair of games at left tackle.
“The more guys you have with NFL game experience on the roster, the better off you’re going to be. You can never have too much depth,’’ Wells said. “At the same time, training camp is about getting your starting five as much time together as possible. You need those reps together so that every man on the line has a feel for what the other guys like to do in certain situations.’’
Long, who spent his the first five seasons with the Miami Dolphins, agreed: “This is a strong group – I think we can be equally good at running and passing the ball – but the big thing now is getting used to each other and developing that cohesiveness. The more time you spend as a five-man unit, the more time you have to learn how to play off one another.
“In just a short time, I see this is a tough group that really likes to get after it.’’
Like everyone else, Wells is looking forward to seeing what the Rams can do offensively this season.
“Again, being in the second year of the system, everybody seems to be a little more comfortable,’’ he said. “I know we’ve added an awful lot of speed and explosiveness, and I think we’re all anxious to see how it all comes together.’’