Rams' success will depend upon veterans in offensive line
Veteran players in Rams' offensive line will dictate season's successes
By STAN McNEALFS Midwest
ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- While an influx of youth and speed has elevated the excitement level around the Rams, don't be surprised if the old guys ultimately determine the team's success.
You know, the guys up front. On the Rams, the guys up front are the old guys.
The old guys will be responsible for Sam Bradford's well being, a responsibility that hasn't been handled all that well in his first three years. Bradford has been sacked 105 times in his 42 games and absorbed who-knows-how-many additional hits.
If the Rams want Tavon Austin, Jared Cook and Co. to flash their moves, Bradford will need time to get them the ball. While much has been made of the team's influx of game-changers at the skill positions, the Rams did not ignore the offensive line by signing four-time Pro Bowl lineman Jake Long, 28, to play left tackle.
He will be joined on the line by a couple of 32-year-old graybeards, center Scott Wells and guard right Harvey Dahl, along with right tackle Rodger Saffold, 25, and a to-be-determined right guard.
"They've made the offensive line a focus by bringing in Jake and showing that's an emphasis that it's important for us to keep Sam upright," Wells said after the team's workout Saturday evening. "He's got all the tools in the world if we can keep him on his feet."
Wells enters his second season with the Rams in a much better position to do his job the way he wants. He was limited to seven games because of a broken left foot suffered in the season opener, and that followed an uneven training camp that was due in part to offseason knee surgery. With Wells right, though, the Rams went their final two games without a single sack of Bradford, which followed a streak at 30 games when he was.
Wells hopes to pick up where he left off. He enters camp feeling "the best I've felt in a couple of years" after spending the offseason going back and forth between his home outside Nashville and Rams Park.
Wells also enters camp after a far more normal offseason than in 2012. Wells and his wife, Julie, spent a month in Uganda last year, adopting three children to go with their three at home. This offseason, the only addition to the Wells clan was a third dog.
"Everybody is doing great," Wells said.
With a half-dozen kids and a houseful of pets, you might think Wells wouldn't take up coach Jeff Fisher on his policy of allowing veterans to spend nights at home during camp. But Wells is glad to avoid the team hotel, partly because he doesn't have to worry much about the housework.
"I've been blessed with an understanding wife," he said. "Doing this as long as I have, being in my 10th year, she understands I need my rest to be successful on the field."
To that end, Wells even was able to take advantage of a long lunch break Saturday to go home and take in a siesta before the late-afternoon practice.
In his rookie season with Green Bay in 2004, being able to go home for a nap during training camp would have been as likely as a practice without perspiring. But times have changed around the NFL, where contact is limited and two-a-days are history.
While the Rams still put in 12-hour days during camp, only a couple of those are put in on the field. Much of their day is spent in the weight room, the training room and meetings. "The first portion of the day is a lot of going over what you're going to do in practice," Wells said. "The walk-through is a rehearsal, then you come out here and perform the practice."
The first workout in which all the Rams practice in pads will be Monday. Nobody seems to mind much, either.
"I like the current schedule," Wells said. "Player safety is a key focus. It's all about finding that balance between player safety and getting in everything you need to get in to be prepared for the season. Right now, it's a good balance.