He’d always been the star, and the successful star. Last year’s knee injury – which sidelined him early in the year, prevented him from ever being 100 percent healthy and a linchpin to an incredibly frustrating personal season – and all that came with it was pretty much the first adversity with which he had ever dealt.
“Um … I haven’t had adversity,” Wells acknowledged. “To be honest, I really haven’t. Everything has always been pretty much smooth sailing.”
The waters have settled for Wells again in 2011. His knee is healthy. Veteran back Tim Hightower, from whom Wells never could wrest the starting job from, was traded to the Redskins. Wells’ backup is
Now he – and coach Ken Whisenhunt – wait to see if he performs.
“I think he’s grown up with another year,” Whisenhunt said. “I think he’s ready to take that role. We’ll see.”
Wells was everyone’s favorite to break out a season ago. He got better as he went in his rookie season, earned his way on to some all-rookie teams and was poised to explode. Then he tore his meniscus in the second half of the final preseason game, knocking him out for the first two regular-season games.
His first game back – 75 yards on 14 carries against Oakland – turned out to be his best performance in a forgettable year. He had just 397 yards rushing after gaining 793 as a rookie. He didn’t play well, the offense didn’t play well, Wells got upset and that adversity he had sidestepped his whole athletic life finally smacked him in the face.
“It was definitely a learning experience, and you can take that and equate that to life,” said Wells, who is only 22. “You go through so many ups and downs, how you bounce back is the key.
“There were times I kind of lashed out a little bit and that kind of backfired. But that’s part of the learning experience. Everybody deserves some room to grow, no matter how old you are. You can always learn something.”
At one point, Wells publicly complained he wanted more carries – he has long maintained he is a better back when he can get at least 20 carries in a game, which he has had just once in his two-year career – but that’s not how Whisenhunt’s offense operates.
Even this year, Williams figures to get the role Hightower left behind.
“I need to get into this playbook so I can be reliable in games,” Williams said after the Hightower deal. “They opened a pathway for me and if I don’t perform, I’m going to look bad. Me and Beanie are going to get together every day and I’m going to be bundled up under him.”
That’s a role Wells says he will embrace, now that the running backs room will be without sages like Hightower and the retired Jason Wright.
That’s the maturity Whisenhunt says he sees, and what was necessary for Wells.
“You have to understand Beanie’s makeup,” Whisenhunt said, noting that Wells finally had a chance to show last season he was drafted too late in 2009 (he went 31st) and instead got hurt.
“That was tough for Beanie. Quite frankly, he didn’t handle it as well as he probably could have, and that’s part of maturity. He’s a different player from that standpoint this year. I don’t question Beanie’s toughness. I have seen Beanie do things when he was nicked up. What Beanie has had to learn is you have to adapt to whatever you are faced with.”
Whisenhunt said it was “premature” to say this season has become make-or-break for Wells, and realistically, the trade of Hightower may have given Wells a little more room for error.
Wells understands the opportunities will not keep coming after a while. Adversity has been cleared away from his path.
“You’re not going to get many chances in this game, especially in this business,” Wells said, with a knowing chuckle. “You get labeled. Quickly. As I know.
“But you have to take it with a grain of salt and work and work and work. And you hope you’re not one of those guys who strikes out and have a life full of regrets and ‘what ifs.’ ”