This isn’t the first time Joe Barksdale has come off the bench to fill in for an injured Rodger Saffold, so he knows the drill.
Just two plays into the preseason, Barksdale found himself on the field after Saffold suffered a dislocated shoulder in Cleveland. In the regular-season opener versus Arizona, Barksdale filled in for four plays when Saffold tweaked his knee.
And midway through the second quarter Sunday in Atlanta, Saffold suffered an injury to the medial collateral ligament (MCL) of his left knee. Out trotted Barksdale, who by now must feel like a relief pitcher.
“No, I feel like a swing tackle,” Barksdale said, laughing. “I meant that’s the job. Between coming in for guys when they go down, or short-yardage, goal-line plays — things of that nature. That’s what I do.”
With Saffold expected to be sidelined for a few weeks, this figures to be an extended run for Barksdale, who was a waiver-wire pickup for the Rams a year ago.
“Joe’s been in that situation before,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “It’s not the first time that he’s had to come into a game off the bench. He was thrown into a similar situation last year. He prepares every week like he’s gonna step on the field, so I thought he did a really good job coming in (against Atlanta). It’s not easy to step into a game cold like that.”
How did the good-humored Barksdale assess his work against the Falcons?
“The coach didn’t yell at me,” Barksdale said. “That’s a good thing.”
After a pause, he added: “Sam’s not hurt.”
That’s two good things.
This week’s game in Dallas won’t be Barksdale’s first start in the NFL. He started against Green Bay and against New England last October when Saffold was out with a knee injury. The only difference is that those games were at left tackle instead of right tackle.
“He’s gone out there and done fine,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “He had a very, very productive day last year against the Packers, mainly Clay (Matthews). When he’s gone in, he’s done a good job. So it’s just a matter of getting the practice reps. You get the practice reps during the week, and you prepare. and you end up playing better.”
Barksdale was a third-round draft pick by Oakland in 2011 out of Louisiana State. He played in 16 games there in a reserve and special teams role that season but was released on Sept. 26 of the 2012 season.
When the Rams added him the next day via waiver claim, Barksdale said, “I felt like I had just got drafted again. That was the longest 24 hours of my life. Wondering if you’re gonna play ball again. Who you gonna play ball for.”
Obviously, the Rams’ scouting department is always on the lookout for talent. But in the case of Barksdale, they had a little extra help from special teams coordinator John Fassel.
“We had coaches involved, our scouts involved, and it was important to us,” Fisher said. “Coach Fassel was at Oakland on special teams (in 2011). We had kind of inside information; felt like he’d help us.”
Once again, the Rams are leaving no stone unturned in making sure they have enough depth at the tackle position. On Monday, Mike Person was claimed off waivers from Seattle. Early Wednesday evening, the Rams agreed to terms on a one-year deal with veteran Max Starks.
Starks, 31, came in for a free-agent visit Tuesday. He was a third-round pick by Pittsburgh in 2004 and spent his first nine seasons there, playing in 123 games with 96 starts. He spent his early years playing right tackle before switching over to left tackle. Last season, he started all 16 games at left tackle for Pittsburgh.
Starks, 6-8, 345, won two Super Bowls with Pittsburgh but was in camp with San Diego this summer before getting released at the end of the preseason. The Rams must release someone before this afternoon’s practice to make room for Starks on the 53-man roster.
It should take Starks a while to get up to speed on the St. Louis offense. Which means for the near future, at least, it will be the man who calls himself Bazooka Joe — at least on his Twitter handle (@BazookaJoe72) — manning the right tackle spot.
“I was a fan of the bubble gum,” Barksdale said. “I don’t know, it was something I thought was cool at the time, so I just stuck with it.”
Did he like the comics that came with the sugary gum?
“I loved the comics,” Barksdale said.
Barksdale also loves the opportunity to join the starting lineup. Naturally, Barksdale feels bad for Saffold, who has had an incredibly bad run of luck with injuries over the last two-plus seasons.
“We’re trying to get some witch doctors and some voodoo going,” Barksdale joked. “But Rodger’s a great guy and it’s really unfortunate what’s happened to him. As a team and as a unit, you never like to see one of your guys go down, and you hope you can get him back as soon as possible.”
Even so, no one reaches the NFL with the idea of being a backup. The goal, of course, is to start, but Barksdale is taking it one step at a time.
“One thing I’ve learned about football is not to think about the future as much,” Barksdale said. “You take it week by week because that’s all you can do. The most important game is the next game. Honestly, all I’m focusing on right now is helping the team win this week, and then we’ll see what happens next week, and the week after that.”