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Backup vs. Matthews? How it came to this

10/21/2012

ST. LOUIS -- A primer on how the St. Louis Rams wound up with two players making their first NFL regular-season starts Sunday against Green Bay:

Left tackle

Joe Barksdale makes his first NFL start. The Rams claimed him off waivers from Oakland on Sept. 27. Projected starter Rodger Saffold is expected back from a knee injury in the next couple weeks. Backup Wayne Hunter missed practice Friday with a back injury and was named inactive Sunday. The team used a 2009 first-round draft choice for Jason Smith with the expectation Smith would be the long-term starter at left tackle. Smith struggled in the role, moved to right tackle and was traded before this season. Barksdale will presumably have help matching up against the Packers' Clay Matthews, who has eight sacks.

Left guard

Shelley Smith makes his first NFL start. The Rams claimed him off waivers from Houston on Sept. 2. Smith has shown the potential to become a powerful run-blocker. It's less clear whether he's ready for pass-blocking responsibilities. Jacob Bell was the starter last season. The Rams cut him. Bell then retired. Fifth-round pick Rokevious Watkins was a potential starter, but he's on injured reserve. Robert Turner could have started, but the Rams need him at center.

Center

Turner makes his seventh consecutive start and the ninth of his career. The Rams made veteran Scott Wells one of their high-profile signings of the offseason. They expected him to man the position and help quarterback Sam Bradford with the line calls. Wells underwent knee surgery during the offseason. He later suffered a foot injury. Wells is on injured reserve with a designation for return. He could be back in Week 10. Jason Brown, the starter last season, was released. He's out of the league at present.

Right guard

Harvey Dahl makes his seventh start of the season and 23rd consecutive start since the Rams signed him in free agency from Atlanta. This position has worked out as planned.

Right tackle

Barry Richardson makes his seventh start of the season. He started 16 games for Kansas City in each of the previous two seasons. Smith was the projected starter heading into the season. Coaches wanted him to become more patient in his pass blocking. They didn't wait long before turning to Richardson. Once they did, Smith became expendable. They traded him to the New York Jets for Hunter.