Wells solidified his spot as Flanagan's top backup by performing well in the three games that he played in last season for the Packers. Wells, the ninth and final draft pick of the Packers in 2004 (251st overall), began the season on the team's practice squad. The former University of Tennessee center was promoted to the 53-man roster when Flanagan was placed on season-ending injured reserve because of knee tendinitis.
Wells, 24, saw his first NFL action Dec. 5 in a blowout loss against Philadephia when starter Grey Ruegamer went down with an ankle injury. Wells started the subsequent two games for the Packers and did nothing to hurt his chances of remaining on the roster. In in his first start against an impressive Detroit Lions' tackle combination of Dan Wilkinson and Shaun Rogers, Wells helped the Packers rush for 116 yards rushing. The offensive line gave up just one sack. The following week against another heavy load of Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, Wells and the offensive line helped the Packers pile up 444 yards of offense against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"Wells is a pretty good athlete," Packers coach Mike Sherman said about the 6-foot-2, 302-pound Wells last December. "He has good feet. Obviously, he's blessed with a low center of gravity, so that helps him a little bit. But he has good feet, he's tough, he's physical. He's very intelligent. ... I think he's going to be a fine center in this league.
"Obviously, his arm length is something that he has to work against with his shorter punch, but usually at center that's not quite as much of a factor because of the fact that you get help most of the time. He's going to be a good center. I'm excited about Wells."
Of course, Flanagan, 31, has reached the Pro Bowl level as center for the Packers in 2003, but the many injuries that he has sustained in his career may be catching up with him. Flanagan likely is going to lose some of his quickness because of the surgery he had on his left knee last Oct. 7. Flanagan says he is back to normal and took part in team drills in the June minicamp, but the question remains if his rehabilitated knee will hold up over the course of a marathon NFL season.
Flanagan spent the first two seasons of his pro career on injured reserve and only played in two games of the 1998 season. The 10th-year pro sustained a broken leg during the preseason of his rookie season, and the leg injury led to other complications (muscle and nerve damage). After a half-dozen surgeries, he became a regular backup to Frank Winters before working his way into the starting lineup in 2001.
Wells started 49 straight games for Tennessee, the third longest streak in college football history among lineman. He is durable, and that undoubtedly will be a big factor in the Packers' decision to re-sign Flanagan to a long-term deal, or allow him to test the open market.
Also keep in mind that the Packers selected Junius Coston in the fifth round of the NFL draft this season. Coston played center at North Carolina A&T, and also can play guard. With Wells in line to start at center, the Packers likely are planning to insert Coston as his backup.
For now, Wells is the future starter at center for the Packers, and possibly as soon as 2006.
Note: Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.