Each weekday from now until Rams rookies report to training camp on July 21st, we’ll be profiling a Rams position group. Today we look at the centers.
After two straight seasons which have seen a player other than regular starter Scott Wells start a good chunk of games at center, the St. Louis Rams’ situation at the position isn’t exactly predictable heading into 2014. Though Wells restructured his contract early in June and will be locked into the starting position heading into training camp, the Rams have assembled plenty of depth this year in case he goes down again.
Wells, who signed a team-friendly deal which reduced his base salary by $4.5 million this year, will aim to stay on the field this year after having injuries limit him to seven games in 2012 and 12 in 2013. Despite his health issues, the Rams’ offensive line always seems to operate more efficiently when Wells is out there, so it’s important that he doesn’t go down again and disrupt the fluidity of the offense.
Though the Rams decided to bring back Wells again for 2014, there was heavy speculation that they wouldn’t due to the fact that former undrafted free agent Tim Barnes performed so well when pressed into action in 2013. Barnes actually graded out slightly better than Wells over the four games that he started according to Pro Football Focus, receiving a -2.3 grade compared to Wells’s -4.0. If Wells went down again, it wouldn’t be too concerning to plug Barnes into the lineup, especially after the experience he gained working with the line late last season and in the OTAs that Wells missed this offseason.
Barnes’s roster spot may not be 100 percent guaranteed, however, because of the progression of 2013 fourth-rounder Barrett Jones. If Jones, a highly-regarded versatile lineman from Alabama, hadn’t suffered a foot injury which prevented him from working out at any point last offseason, he probably would have gone higher in the draft. That injury stunted his development, though, as he missed out on participating in OTAs and the early part of training camp. By the time he had started to practice again, Barnes was firmly ahead of him on the depth chart.
This year, Jones says that he’s much more up to speed and has gotten into better shape. If that is indeed the case, he may be ready to begin serving as a backup on gamedays, which would be a real asset considering that Jones is proficient at both center and guard and played tackle in college. Unlike Jones, Barnes is pretty much limited to center, and if Jones is part of the gameday roster, it may make Barnes redundant and expendable. It’s possible, however, that the Rams may desire to just have the extra depth anyway considering Wells’s recent injury history.
For what it’s worth, Jones is listed as a guard/center on the roster, so the Rams clearly see him as more than just a center. With no backup tackles on the roster who are really proven at the NFL level, it’s possible that the Rams could dress Barnes, Jones, and guard Davin Joseph as their backup linemen on gamedays and have starting guards Rodger Saffold and Greg Robinson serve as the backup tackles in case of an in-game injury.
For extra depth at the center position, the Rams drafted Demetrius Rhaney of Tennessee State with pick 250 in the seventh round (due to the historic selection of Michael Sam at pick 249, the Rhaney pick went just about as under-the-radar as a seventh-round selection can possibly go). Rhaney faces an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster, as it’s highly unlikely that the Rams will open the season with four centers, but his high level of athleticism (he ran sub-5 second 40 times at his pro day), he’s an intriguing prospect who would be a good candidate for the practice squad this year.
While there’s going to be the concern about whether Wells can stay on the field, the Rams now have arguably the best depth at center of any team in the NFL, so there shouldn’t be any major worries.