ST. LOUIS -- Of the many questions awaiting the St. Louis Rams along their offensive line heading into the offseason, one player they know will be back in the mix is offensive tackle Joe Barksdale. What remains to be seen is how the team views his role long term.
Barksdale was an important cog to the offensive line in 2013, initially stepping in for injured starter Rodger Saffold at right tackle in Week 2 against Atlanta. From there, he made the most of his opportunity, playing well enough in Saffold's absence to mostly keep the job even after Saffold returned to the mix.
Claimed on waivers from Oakland in 2012 on the recommendation of special teams coach John Fassel, who had worked with Barksdale with the Raiders, Barksdale has been yet another in an increasingly large group of line coach Paul Boudreau specials.
With Saffold set to become an unrestricted free agent and Barksdale playing well and under contract, it made plenty of sense for the Rams to take a long look at Barksdale to determine his long-term viability. Barksdale started 13 games, and though he split time with Saffold in a few before Saffold moved to guard, he was clearly the team's primary right tackle in playing 794 offensive snaps on the season.
Was that enough to ensure Barksdale a starting job moving into 2014?
"I don’t know," Barksdale said. "That’s all speculation. All I know is I’ll come back with the same work ethic I’ve had the last three years, done the best I can every day and try to become the best player I can to help the team out."
The 6-foot-5, 326-pound Barksdale seemed to fit the mold of what the Rams are looking for at tackle. Although he's not the most athletic or strongest tackle you'll find, Barksdale competed well and was mostly a net positive in 2013. For what it's worth, Pro Football Focus gave Barksdale an overall grade of 12.2 for the season, with an 11.9 in pass protection. Barksdale earned a negative grade just three times.
Considering that Saffold and guard Shelley Smith are headed for unrestricted free agency, left tackle Jake Long has a long road back from a torn ACL and MCL, and center Scott Wells and guard Harvey Dahl are potential cap casualties, the presence of Barksdale is made even more important.
It's entirely possible the Rams could be facing up to 80 percent turnover on the line for opening day 2014. Teams often talk about the importance of continuity, especially on the offensive line which also plays in Barksdale's favor.
On the other side of the coin, the Rams are armed with a pair of first-round draft picks at Nos. 2 and 13 and would be well served to draft a top tackle. Whether it's Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, Auburn's Greg Robinson or some other top tackle, a player capable of stepping in and playing right away and eventually being Long's replacement at left tackle would make sense with an early pick.
Of the many possibilities and permutations the Rams' offensive line could take on in 2014, at least they know that Barksdale fits into the picture whether he's a starter or not.