Heading into this year’s training camp, one of the most intriguing storylines was the Rams’ situation at center. Veteran Scott Wells was brought back on a more team-friendly contract that would have made it possible for the team to cut ties with him if necessary. Meanwhile, former undrafted free agent Tim Barnes looked poised to push for the job, with second-year player Barrett Jones being the darkhorse to slide in and become a starter.
Jones, a three-time BCS National Champion, two-time consensus All-American, Outland and Rimington Trophy winner who played at right guard, left tackle, and center during his time at Alabama, was very highly-regarded coming out of college. Unfortunately, a lisfranc injury caused his draft stock to drop, and he fell to the Rams in the fourth round. As he recovered from the injury last summer, his development was halted, and he did not even dress on game days for most of the regular season.
This year, though, Jones had the full offseason to get up to speed, and at the very least it was expected that he would rise up the depth chart and perhaps surpass Barnes as the backup center. Jones didn’t get off to a great start in training camp, as he looked weaker than his offensive line mates. As the first week went on, however, Jones did show some flashes, and he rotated first-team reps with Barnes as Wells eased back into practice following an illness. For some reason, though, Jones has gone MIA, and it’s difficult to know how it could affect the Rams’ plans for him.
Jones has been out of practice since July 31, though the Rams have not been required to release any details about his condition, because the NFL only requires teams to publicize injury reports during the regular season. The thing that makes Jones’ case more worrisome than most is that while the standard procedure for injured players to come out to the field and either work with the trainers on the side or watch their position groups go through drills, Jones hasn’t been seen on the field since he’s been sidelined.
It’s pointless to speculate about what’s wrong with Jones, but whatever it is that is ailing him is obviously something serious enough to prevent him from being on the field. Perhaps it’s something as simple as a concussion that makes it uncomfortable for him to be outside, but whatever the case it’s a bit alarming that he’s been off the field for nearly two weeks.
With Barnes having had so much time to establish himself as the backup center, Jones may face a strong uphill battle if he’s going to be one of the Rams’ gameday backups this year if and when he ultimately returns. Assuming health from the projected starters, Barnes and veteran guard Davin Joseph probably have guaranteed spots on the 46-man gameday roster. The Rams dressed three backup linemen on many occasions last year, but they may need more roster spots for special-teamers this year, resulting in another lineman sitting. Even if they do decide to dress three backups, Jones could face competition from a guy like Mike Person, who is proficient at both tackle and guard, or Sean Hooey, who can play either tackle position.
For Jones’ sake, he’ll hopefully get back on the field soon and remain an option for the team as a backup this year and possibly a starter down the road.