He’s not asking for it, but some recognition is finally starting to come his way.
Center Scott Wells has toiled in relative anonymity in Green Bay for 7½ seasons without so much as a sniff of the Pro Bowl. Then suddenly this week, inside the issue of Sports Illustrated that features the Packers’ quarterback and receiving corps on the cover, Wells was named to writer Peter King’s midseason All-Pro team.
It’s only natural, of course, that with the team’s success come individual accolades, particularly at a less-than-glamorous position such as center. But Wells doesn’t just understand that, he prefers it that way. One should lead to the other in a team sport like football.
“I’m a firm believer in that,” he said. “That’s not just a cheesy answer.”
It’s also a backhanded way of saying Wells didn’t suddenly become a good player this season, his eighth since arriving as a seventh-round draft choice in 2004. Offensive line coach James Campen believes Wells’ game has been at this level for a number of years. Head Coach Mike McCarthy has said the same thing, even if nobody is going out of his way to praise Wells.
“It’s a lot like growing up in my house as a kid,” McCarthy said. “When Dad’s not talking to you, you know things are going well. I don’t talk to Scott very often.”
That’s OK, because the smart, technically sound Wells does plenty of talking when he needs to. Whether he’s barking out pass-protection calls and adjustments at the line of scrimmage or asking questions in the offensive line meeting room during film sessions, Wells is a communicator.
He also became the elder statesmen on the current offensive line when fellow Tennessee alum Chad Clifton went down with a hamstring injury in Week 5. As the unit this season has transitioned to a new starter at left guard in T.J. Lang and adjusted at the tackle positions due to injuries to Clifton and, earlier in the year, to Bryan Bulaga, Wells has kept things operating smoothly. He’s literally and figuratively in the middle of it all.
“He never screws up,” Lang said. “He never has any MA’s (missed assignments), and he’s a guy you can count on to do his job.
“If there’s a run to the left, I know Scott is going to be there helping me. If there’s a slide protection where Scott’s coming toward me, he’s going to get a chip on a guy. He’s always bouncing around. He doesn’t just take plays off when he’s uncovered. As a guard next to him, that makes you a lot more comfortable knowing Scott is going to be there.”
Wells also has grown more comfortable in recent years with his leadership role. Campen said Wells has always been a perfectionist, but earlier in his career it worked against him, because he let the stress pile up with every mistake, whether an individual or group error.
He takes a more mature approach now, which helps in the heat of battle.
“He keeps a calming effect when things aren’t right,” Campen said. “He’s also done it enough to where if something needs to get fixed, he’ll speak up and guys respect what he says. That’s very important.”
As far as his demeanor, Wells said he takes the lead of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has a similarly “level head.” In that respect, Wells strives for consistency as much as perfection, regardless of any outside attention he might receive.
“Center is a job that is a pretty quiet job as long as you do what you’re supposed to do,” he said. “It tends to stay pretty quiet. That’s fine with me.”
What isn’t fine with Wells, or the rest of his linemates, is a statistical chart about the running game the group was shown upon returning from the bye week.
The stats focused on the team’s high number of negative runs – 18 in 172 rushing attempts, not including kneel-downs. There also have been 18 rushes for zero yards, meaning one in every five times the Packers have run the ball, they’ve gained nothing or lost yardage. It’s happening an average of five times per game.
Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin said those numbers aren’t solely the line’s fault. The tight ends, fullbacks and receivers have missed their share of blocks, too, and the running backs must take some blame as well.
The common denominator with poor runs is penetration in the backfield, Philbin said, and that’s what needs to be shored up. The running game went into the bye on a strong note as James Starks broke off gains of 15, 20 and 13 yards late in the fourth quarter to seal the win over Minnesota, but that didn’t solve everything.
“You’d love to have more of those, but sometimes what you really need are those 3’s, 4’s, 5’s and 6’s,” Philbin said of posting steady gains. “That’s what we’re really missing.
“That’s the reason our running attack is where it’s at (ranked 24th). It’s a collective effort.”
A stickler for fundamentals and technique, Wells believes the struggles with the negative runs are correctable. He explains it in the calm, level-headed tone he’s known for.
“It’s not just guys getting beat. That’s the good news,” he said. “We’re able to watch the film, make the corrections, practice it, and now we just have to carry it over to the field.”
If they can, and the ground game surges forward, perhaps even more recognition will come Wells’ way. After all, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.
If the Packers are having their best season, Wells must be, too.
“I’d like to think so, that I’m playing better,” he said. “But at the same time I’m part of a very special offense and a very special football team, and that has helped elevate my game.” Additional coverage - Nov. 3