- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Upon completion of his second NFL season, St. Louis Rams offensive tackle Joe Barksdale went looking for someone who could provide him guidance to build off what he’d learned from line coach Paul Boudreau in his first year with the team.
Barksdale stayed in the Rams family and turned to Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jackie Slater, whom he’d met in December when Slater was in St. Louis for the team’s 75th anniversary celebration.
Barksdale and Slater had hit it off that weekend, and Barksdale figured who better to provide some wisdom than Slater, and flew to California to spend a week working with Slater.
“Jackie played for 20 years so he has a plethora of knowledge and information to bestow upon somebody,” Barksdale said. “So I pretty much was out there 24/7 picking his brain kind of like the Karate Kid and Mr. Miyagi.”
Although Barksdale didn’t disclose the full itinerary of events from his time with Slater, it’s probably safe to assume that he didn’t sand any floors, paint any fences or catch any flies with chopsticks. And Barksdale will probably have to wait until next year to enter the All Valley tournament.
Instead, Slater spent the week offering Barksdale tips on technique, hand placement, footwork and all the things necessary to help Barksdale become a more efficient blocker in 2013.
The results of that offseason work combined with what Barksdale did during the team’s offseason program were on display a bit sooner than anyone expected last week in the preseason opener against Cleveland.
When starting right tackle Rodger Saffold left after two plays with a dislocated left shoulder, Barksdale got the call to step in. He played 40 offensive snaps, moving over to left tackle after the first team offense called it a night.
“Anytime you can get reps in a game it is valuable,” Barksdale said. “You don’t get better until you start taking live reps so I’m going to take it practice by practice and then even game by game. I’m just going to do my best to do whatever I can to help the team.”
This week, there will be no wondering when Barksdale will step in as Saffold is expected to miss a week or two with the shoulder injury. That figures to make Barksdale’s life a bit easier after spending most of the first two weeks bouncing back and forth from the left side to the right.
Barksdale claims that he’s equally comfortable on both sides but given his track record, size (6-foot-5, 326 pounds) and playing style, he’s probably better suited to the right side.
In fact, Barksdale spent three of his four seasons at LSU playing on the right side so his opportunity to fill in for Saffold should come a bit easier than it would when he spent time on the left side last year.
Barksdale started two games as a fill in for Saffold last year, though both of those starts came on the left side. He comes back this year with much deeper knowledge of the Rams offense after coming in part way through last season when the Rams claimed him off waivers from Oakland.
According to Pro Football Focus, he played 126 snaps in those two games against Green Bay and New England, allowing two sacks, three quarterback hits and two quarterback hurries. He was a plus run blocker against the Packers but struggled against the Patriots.
Still, Rams coach Jeff Fisher said he believes Barksdale can fill the void for the time being.
“Joe is lining up against some good defensive ends here in practice every day and he got on the field and did well, knew what to do,” Fisher said. “So we are totally comfortable with Joe doing that.”
While Barksdale’s opportunity to play might not mean much on the surface, it could play a small part in larger roster implications down the road.
Saffold is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and every chance Barksdale gets between now and then -- preseason or otherwise -- is a chance to prove he could have a long-term future.
The Rams again have two first-round picks in next year’s NFL draft and getting a handle on what they have at the spot opposite Jake Long could determine whether tackle is a pressing need next offseason.
For now, Barksdale isn’t concerned with any of that so much as the chance to continue to improve daily against ends like Chris Long, Robert Quinn and William Hayes as he attempts to make sensei Slater proud.
“I’m a big proponent of hard work and getting reps,” Barksdale said. “You are not going to win every one but the more you work at it, the higher your winning percentage goes. So the more I can get work against quality pass rushers and this team has a lot of quality pass rushers, the more prepared I’ll feel for the game and being able to protect Sam [Bradford].”