EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As every other member of the St. Louis Rams' 2013 draft class has had at least one game full of snaps and opportunity, offensive lineman Barrett Jones has stood calmly on the sideline watching and waiting.
Watching as linebacker Alec Ogletree, receiver Tavon Austin, running back Zac Stacy, and safety T.J. McDonald have stepped into starting or expanded roles. Watching as receiver Stedman Bailey has earned increased opportunities, eventually earning a start last week against Arizona. Watching as cornerback Brandon McGee stepped in to fill a void in an injury-depleted secondary. And Jones has waited.
"I’m not frustrated," Jones said. "I’ve just kind of used this as a growth year, a year to kind of adjust to the NFL, really have some experience in the scheme and get faster and stronger, and I think I’ve made the most of it. I’m working really hard off the field, in the film room and the weight room so I feel really good about being ready when my time comes."
The natural question is when, exactly, his time will come? Considering the Rams have been officially eliminated from the playoff chase, many are wondering if that time is now. A player like Bailey, for example, has earned more and more repetitions as the season has gone along and figures to see more of those chances in the final three weeks.
But of course this isn't a YMCA league where everybody gets to play and juice boxes are handed out after the game. If a player gets a chance in the NFL, it's because he's earned it, not because it's mandated.
That said, it seems as though Jones would be a logical candidate to get some opportunities in the final three weeks, especially with starting center Scott Wells now officially on injured reserve with a broken fibula. Tim Barnes started in Wells' stead last week, and while he was OK, it's Jones with the more likely future as a possible starting center.
Given Wells' $6.5 million salary-cap number for next season, it's no guarantee he'll return. The Rams have unrestricted free agents at left guard and right tackle in Chris Williams and Rodger Saffold, respectively, and right guard Harvey Dahl is to count $4 million against the cap, making him another possible cap casualty.
From a Rams perspective, it could make sense to get a look at what they have in Jones with hopes he shows enough to give them some cap flexibility combined with the knowledge they won't have to leave their locker room to renovate up to 80 percent of the offensive line.
Before giving Jones a chance, the Rams have wanted to be sure he's ready. A serious foot injury and lack of strength kept him inactive in the first 12 games.
“Barrett has done a real good job in the weight room, and he’s gained a lot of strength," coach Jeff Fisher said. "So, he’ll be ready to go. Obviously, he’ll know what to do and how to do it, he just hasn’t had an opportunity.”
Upon arrival in St. Louis after the team used a fourth-round pick on him in April, Jones already had a good idea that the Lisfranc injury in his foot was going to take some time to heal. He said the Rams were honest with him right away about his chances for playing this season, and let him know they wanted him to fully heal and add muscle to his 308-pound frame.
"I knew these things kind of take about a year to feel 100 percent," Jones said. "I didn’t know exactly what the situation was going to be. But they have been really great and been up front with me the whole time, so I have no complaints and I’m excited about the future."
Jones is about a month away from the one year mark in terms of being removed from the injury. In the meantime, he's worked hard to reshape his body. Jones was able to become one of the most decorated players in college football history with outstanding technique and intelligence, but by his own admission didn't do a whole lot of lifting or working out when Alabama was in season.
"I just think I was playing so much I didn’t have as much of an opportunity to work out," Jones said. "You’re playing all the time. I worked out really hard in the offseason, but during the season it was more of a sustain kind of deal, so it’s been good to really get in there and hit it hard."
Jones has taken to spending early mornings in the Rams Park weight room, arriving before his teammates about 6:30 a.m. and putting in more than an hour on the weights before meetings begin. As for the mental side, that's never been a problem for the former four-time Academic All American, and it doesn't appear to be one now.
"I feel ready," Jones said. "I think I’ve improved a lot. I’m feeling pretty healthy, and so if I get an opportunity to play in these next few games, I’m excited to have a chance."
It's a chance that could come sooner than later.