Sidney Wells started in all 27 games that he’s worn a UAB uniform. He’s made all-conference teams and was on the Outland Trophy watch list. He’s been a leader both emotionally and physically since stepping on campus.
His motivation headed into this season, however, has more to do with being off the field than what he’s done on the field. You see, for all the good he’s done at UAB, he’s coming off his most difficult time since coming to Birmingham. Wells started the first four games in the 2021 season but missed the remaining nine games, including the Independence Bowl victory over nationally ranked BYU, because of an injury.
“For me, personally, it was tough,” said Wells, a 6-foot-4, 330-pound senior. “It’s motivated me because I feel like I’ve been forgotten, and I feel like I have a point to prove.”
To say he didn’t play a role last season, though, is a bit short-sighted. Wells did what he could to help the offensive line succeed.
“I was focusing on being the best teammate I could be when I was injured,” Wells said. “When Colby Ragland moved over, he’s already a seasoned vet, but there were some things I saw that I tried to help him correct.”
He’s more comfortable leading the way for an offensive line that returns four players with considerable starting experience. Guard Matthew Trehern has started the past 22 games, tackle Kadeem Telfort has 17 starts in his 19 appearances at UAB and center Will Rykard started in 9 of the 14 he’s played for the Blazers.
On paper, that suggests that offensive line coach Cameron Blankenship entered fall camp searching for one lineman to complete the starting puzzle. In reality, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
“When I played, it was jumble the pieces up and see where they fall,” said Blankenship, a former lineman. “I tell the guys all the time, best five are going to play. That’s a big deal for me.”
Blankenship has spent the early part of fall camp challenging his group by putting them at different positions. Wells, for example, split time between right guard and right tackle last week. Trehern, who is one of the best guards in the conference, played some at center. Brady Wilson is playing all three interior positions.
That’s just a small snapshot.
“Like I tell those guys all the time, you might play one position today; you might play another one tomorrow,” Blankenship said. “In the first couple of days that’s what it was. On Wednesday and Thursday, we set a solidified (A1) and (A2) just to try to create that cohesiveness, which is important for me. The best five are going to play. If a guy has to play out of position to get the best five, that’s what we will do.”
Wells said the position switches have been helpful to the line’s development.
“Moving inside to guard, I feel like I’m learning more because, now, I’m working with the center more than I would be at tackle,” Wells said. “My IQ is improving. I feel good about it. It’s been a challenging process, I would say, but it’s something that is going to make me a better player. As for the whole line, we’re trying to be the most versatile we can be. Somebody can go down any given play. We want to have full confidence in whoever is going to step up.”
Blankenship said a big advantage is the presence of Rykard at center. To his fellow linemates, Rykard is known as ‘The Sheriff’ or ‘The Colonel.’ Blankenship said the nicknames come 'because they say he runs the show.'”
For Blankenship, it’s like having a coach on the field.
“There are some things he’ll see and I won’t even have to say anything,” Blankenship said. “Sometimes when we’re in a drill, he’ll turn around and look at me and I’ll just nod, which is a big deal. It all starts with him.”
Telfort, an Outland Trophy watch list member, missed time in the first week with a sore foot, which allowed others to get time at the left tackle spot. Trey Bedosky and Quez Yates are progressing at tackle and Quincy McGee looks to be another solid option at guard. Wilson and Eli Richey are among the young players having good camps.
The other piece that the Blazers are looking to solidify is the sixth lineman when they employ the ‘Rhino’ formation. It’s become a critical piece of the offense the past few seasons with Jakoby Jones adeptly filling that role the last two years. Bedosky filled in for Jones at times last season, which gave him some valuable game experience.
“It’s really not easy. It takes a bit of savviness to play that Rhino position for us,” Blankenship said. “We’ve been in a lot of six-man sets over the past couple of years. Having that sixth offensive lineman is a big deal. Finding that guy, we are going to rotate three or four guys, at least for the next few weeks. We’ve got a pretty good idea who we think it’s going to be, but it’s always good to have two like we did last year.”
For Blankenship, it’s just another part of the puzzle he’s working on. Although he’s been part of the program for a long time, this is his first season to be the guy making most of the decisions on the offensive line. Blankenship played for UAB from 2012-14 before finishing his playing career at South Alabama after the UAB program was shut down. He’s been part of the program since the return of the UAB football program.
“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” Blankenship said. “Being o-line coach at my alma mater is a pretty special thing.”
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