EARTH CITY, Mo. – Although the St. Louis Rams haven’t made anything official in terms of right tackle Rodger Saffold's status for Sunday's game at Dallas, all signs are pointing to an opportunity for Joe Barksdale to step into the starting lineup for at least one week.
Perhaps now is a good time to ask whether Barksdale might have a chance to show whether the job could become his on a more permanent basis.
Barksdale stepped in for Saffold when the latter suffered a knee injury against Atlanta in Week 2, and Saffold did not practice Wednesday, leaving Barksdale to take the repetitions with the first team.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher has said Saffold is “day-to-day” with the knee ailment, but the Rams claimed tackle Mike Person on waivers from Seattle on Monday and agreed to a one-year deal with veteran tackle Max Starks on Wednesday evening.
That flurry of moves would seem to indicate that Saffold is going to miss a little bit of time, and potentially open the window for the Rams to find out what they have in Barksdale beyond his current role as the swing tackle and occasional fill-in.
“Joe has done fine,” Fisher said. “He had a very, very productive day last year against the Packers and with Clay (Matthews), and he’s gone out and done a good job. It’s just a matter of getting the practice reps.”
Barksdale has already become no stranger to stepping in for Saffold. He filled in for him last year in that game against Green Bay and started against New England the following week as Saffold dealt with a knee injury similar to the one he has now.
During this preseason, Saffold suffered a dislocated shoulder two offensive plays into the opener in Cleveland; Barksdale handled the job in his absence.
For his part, Barksdale said he would prefer not to get starting opportunities by way of injury, and he expressed sympathy for Saffold’s ongoing issues, even joking that he’d be looking for witch doctors or some voodoo to help Saffold get and stay healthy.
“Rodger is a great guy and it is really unfortunate what’s happened to him,” Barksdale said. “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.”
Putting that aside, Barksdale is no different from any player currently working as a backup in the NFL. Originally a third-round pick of Oakland in the 2011 draft, Barksdale hit waivers Sept. 26 of last season.
On the recommendation of special-teams coach John Fassel, who worked with Barksdale in Oakland, and the Rams’ scouting department, the team put in a claim and landed the 6-foot-5, 329-pound Barksdale.
Since arriving in St. Louis, Barksdale has worked almost exclusively as the team’s swing tackle, filling in capably on both the right and left sides. It’s a job Barksdale has embraced and taken seriously, but that doesn’t mean he has no designs on someday becoming a starter.
“That’s the goal,” Barksdale said. “But like I said, at the end of the day that’s not my decision. So whether I am a swing tackle or a starter or a practice-squad guy, I’m going to come in and I’m going to work and prepare the same way regardless. Of course you hope for the best, but at the end of the day it’s out of your control.”
What Barksdale can control is how he performs in any opportunities that come his way. Saffold is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season. Given his persistent health problems, it would be logical for the Rams to use this time to evaluate Barksdale as a potential long-term replacement before decisions have to be made in the offseason.
For now, Barksdale isn’t concerned with what could be and is focused on what is.
“Honestly, one thing I have 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, so all I’m focused on right now is helping the team win this week and then we’ll see what happens next week and the week after that. I take it week by week.”
Perhaps Starks or Person will also get a look while Saffold is out, or maybe Saffold will return sooner than later. In the here and now, the chance for Barksdale to turn week-by-week into something long-term is staring him in the face.