GREEN BAY – Josh Sitton said he wanted to find a different word. But the Green Bay Packers right guard is a straight-shooting, unvarnished kind of guy, and given the mischievous grin on his face, the truth was that he actually liked the idea of using the word to describe his friend and offensive linemate, center Scott Wells.
“Let’s see,” Sitton said, pausing for effect. “How can I say this without saying he’s anal?”
In the end, Sitton couldn’t. Wells, meanwhile, could.
“Meticulous,” Wells said Thursday. “I have a certain way of doing things, and I like it that way.”
And that way is working, brilliantly. While much of the focus during the Packers’ 7-0 start has been on the brilliant play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, one of the reasons why Rodgers has been so effective is the work Wells does at the line of scrimmage before the snap, recognizing the defense’s intentions and helping Rodgers make the requisite protection calls and adjustments to keep the Packers’ high-octane offense moving.
“Scott knows the offense as well as anybody in the building. I'd say, if you look at guys who really are the smartest players on the team – and I'm not going to include myself in that mix – Scott Wells and (fullback) John Kuhn know the offense as well as anybody and they're able to make checks without me even saying anything,” Rodgers said. “It takes a ton of stress and pressure off of me and my film study and my preparation when I know that if I guess wrong, or if I'm unsure about a look, that I know Scotty is going to be right there next to me, a step ahead of me at times, knowing what the call needs to be.
“Scotty and his smarts take a ton of pressure off me.”
And Wells is doing it quietly, with little fanfare or attention. While offensive linemen seldom find themselves in the spotlight anyway, Wells’ role at center is even more anonymous. But in coach Mike McCarthy’s offense, the closer you are to the ball, the more responsibility you have, and only Wells and Rodgers touch the ball on every play.
"I've told Scott this before: It's a lot like growing up in my house as a kid, when your dad's not talking to you, things are going well,” McCarthy said. “I don't talk to Scott very often.”
A seventh-round pick in 2004 who spent the first three weeks of that season on the practice squad before being called up to the 53-man roster, Wells enters Sunday’s game at San Diego having started 98 games (including playoffs), including 42 in a row. But it was what happened in training camp in 2009 before that streak began that has come to define Wells.
It was then that the coaching staff decided to demote Wells, who had started 44 of a possible 50 games the previous three years, and make Jason Spitz the starting center. Spitz started the regular-season opener, but when left tackle Chad Clifton’s ankle injury forced the coaches to shuffle the line and move Spitz to guard, Wells regained the starting center job.
He’s held it ever since.
“It’s hard to say whether or not it helped me, because we don’t have the luxury of not having it happen. I feel like when it happened, I was playing well, and after the fact, I’ve continued to play well,” Wells said. “Who knows? Some will argue it motivated me, but you can’t say (that). But there are two ways to handle something like that happening: One, you tuck your tail, you pout, you close up shop, you shut down. And then the other one is, you come to work, continue to do your job, and you wait for your next opportunity and take advantage of it. And that’s what I did.
“I can have my opinion about what happened, but at the end of the day, my opinion didn’t matter. I had a job to do.”
For a coaching staff that has pushed almost all the right buttons in recent years, culminating in the team’s Super Bowl XLV championship, it was a rare mistake.
“The decision-making, that’s an internal thing, but I will say this: The way he responded was not a surprise to me. He turned a negative situation for himself into a positive,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “And I truly believe he grew from that.”
Spitz ended up suffering a back injury later in the 2009 season and was never the same again. He signed with Jacksonville as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Wells, meanwhile, is set to be a free agent after this season. While Sitton and wide receiver Jordy Nelson signed extensions earlier this year and tight end Jermichael Finley also high on the priority list, it’s hard to say what the future holds for Wells. And unlike Finley, Wells patently refused to discuss anything about his contract situation Thursday.
According to Wells, he has graded out slightly higher this year as compared to last season’s game-by-game grades. Since the start of the 2010 season, Wells has been flagged for only two holding penalties, and after allowing 1.5 sacks last season, according to STATS LLC, he hasn't allowed one this year.
"It's a challenging position and he's really been consistent for us this year," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "I think he's kind of the heart and soul for the o-line. Center's a critical position. These guys have to drive the train, so to speak, and make sure everybody's on the same page. They're the decision-makers in the offense."
While Wells appreciates those kind words – and even Sitton’s – he’s just fine with McCarthy’s no-news-is-good-news approach. To him, he’s just doing his job.
"I just try to show up, do my job effectively and help others any way I can," Wells said. “It is the life of an offensive lineman. If you’re doing your job and doing it well, then not a lot has to be said.
“I don’t like to talk about myself. I think each week I’m improving and taking steps in the right direction.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.