- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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It was Sept. 26, 2012, just one of a handful of days over the past couple of years now permanently etched in Barksdale's mind. The next was Sept. 27, 2012, a day later when the St. Louis Rams claimed him off waivers.
Barksdale arrived in St. Louis with enough raw talent to develop into the bedrock of an often in flux offensive line that he is today but without any of the self-belief necessary to get there.
"When I got here, I was a recently cut former draft pick with no confidence, not many technical skills," Barksdale said. "But I believe I'm here for a reason and I'm so happy to be here. I do believe that everything did happen for a reason, when it was supposed to and how it was supposed to."
What's happened in the nearly two years since Barksdale arrived in St. Louis is more than anyone knows. It's easy to look at the resume he's compiled and see a young player simply emerging as a solid right tackle providing durability to a line in desperate need of it.
But the road from there to here hasn't been as easy as it might seem.
When the Rams claimed Barksdale in 2012, they were simply searching for help on the offensive line after some injuries had struck. That's been a familiar refrain in recent seasons.
Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau saw the 6-foot-5, 326-pound Barksdale as his next great reclamation project, if only he could get Barksdale to have the same belief.
For as much work as Barksdale needed on footwork, hand placement and understanding of angles, he needed regular reminders he could get there.
"His thing is more confidence in everything," Boudreau said. "Joe is his own worst critic. He's his own worst enemy. I tell him I will do all the worrying for you and you get out there and you play."
That confidence came quickly for Barksdale, who said he genuinely started buying into Boudreau's belief when he started at left tackle against Green Bay on Oct. 21, 2012. He started again the following week in London against New England and graded out well in both games.
After starting those two games and appearing in four more, Barksdale returned in 2013 primed to be the primary swing tackle behind Rodger Saffold and Jake Long. He spent part of his offseason working with Hall of Fame Rams offensive tackle Jackie Slater; something he repeated this summer, and came back ready for whatever role was needed.
As it turned out, projected right tackle Saffold suffered an injury early in the preseason and again in Week 2 of the regular season. Before Barksdale was to start the next week against Dallas, tragedy struck.
Charles Fobbs, who Barksdale calls a mentor, second father, brother and coach since he was 13 years old, died in a car accident before the Rams played the Cowboys.
Barksdale was devastated by the loss and attended the funeral back home in Michigan in search of some peace of mind. When he returned to St. Louis, he found solace on the football field, in his teammates and from his coaches.
Boudreau, in particular, knew what Barksdale was going through. His father had passed away not long before Fobbs, and Boudreau was still reeling from his own loss. Boudreau offered daily encouragement and reminded Barksdale that the best way to get through a tough time is simply to do it.
"I said you have a job to do and when you're at work, it might be the best thing for you, it might be the best therapy for you," Boudreau said. "He kind of knew it was somebody walking his shoes. It's going to always hurt and I said the anniversary of that will be the same thing for you and when you go back to Michigan you'll see his family and it will be a tough time for you, but I think in his case, he's grown up more than anything since he's been a Ram."
With each practice and game, Barksdale grew as a player as he dedicated himself to improving. By the time the season was through, Barksdale had started 13 games and played in all 16. For what it's worth, Pro Football Focus graded him as the team's second most productive lineman.
Amidst the revolving doors at other positions on the line, Barksdale remains steadfast on the right side. Boudreau points out Barksdale is no longer dwelling on mistakes. Barksdale has even set big goals for himself, starting with winning a Super Bowl, making the Pro Bowl and eventually the Hall of Fame.
In this training camp, Barksdale has been the one constant on the offensive line, playing with the starters at the same position every day.
"Joe's done a great job," coach Jeff Fisher said. "Joe's stepped in and played. He's played both sides for us, settled in on the right side. He's reliable, dependable, everything you want at right tackle. It was great timing for us, great timing for Joe, when he was let go and we had an opportunity to bring him in and he's done a great job."
After the season, Barksdale is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. More important, he's also in the midst of planning a wedding. He says he spends much more time thinking of the latter than the former when he's not practicing his newest hobby, the electric guitar.
Given his druthers, Barksdale would like to stay in St. Louis.
"Definitely," Barksdale said. "They gave me a second chance."