Barksdale’s Attention to Detail Has Him Making the Most of Opportunity

Posted Nov 7, 2013

At the outset of the 2013 season, Joe Barksdale couldn’t have predicted his role expanding this quickly.

In a span of seven weeks, Barksdale has advanced from a reserve tackle to a key cog in the Rams’ offensive unit. Barksdale, who filled in during fourth-year tackle Rodger Saffold’s early-season knee injury at Atlanta in Week 2, has seen his playing time remain steady since Saffold’s return, and has his keen attention to detail to credit for his increased role.

“It sounds repetitive, but it’s (about) the little details,” Barksdale said. “It’s more a matter of a bunch of little things coming together in order to make a big picture as opposed to stepping differently now, or something like that.”

Those ‘little things’ have translated into Barksdale performing at a high level in his third NFL season. Barksdale, who has started seven of nine games but rotates reps with Saffold, enters this week as the only current starting Rams lineman to not be flagged for a false start or holding penalty. In addition, he has allowed just three sacks all season, which ranks in the league’s top 20 among tackles with seven or more starts.

That performance has come despite opposing teams often lining up their elite pass rushers opposite Barksdale, anticipating a more favorable matchup than against left tackle Jake Long. Despite the added challenge, Barksdale has shown an ability to more than hold his own.

“Obviously, he’s stepped in when we needed him to step in,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “He’s getting better and better. You watch him every week, he’s getting matched up against good players. Guys are certainly trying to get to his side because they want to rush against him, but he’s stepped up and accepted the challenge.”

While his work in pass protection has been more than adequate, Barksdale’s timing in taking over at right tackle has also coincided with the Rams’ recent strides in the running game. Behind the Rams’ new-look offensive line, the Rams have averaged 133 yards rushing over the past five weeks. That stands in stark contrast to the season’s first four games, which saw the Rams averaging just 47 yards per game on the ground. Rookie RB Zac Stacy has played a leading role in the recent resurgence in the running game, but for Barksdale and the rest of the offensive line, the back that receives the bulk of the carries is immaterial to the job at hand.

“Honestly, you could put somebody’s grandma back there running the ball, and we’re going to try to open a hole for her,” Barksdale said. “Anybody can be back there, and we’re going to play the same.”

The Rams, who opened the season with the offensive line representing the most veteran-laden unit on either side of the ball, have hinged much of their recent offensive success on younger players like Barksdale and guard Shelley Smith, who stepped in following the loss of veteran Harvey Dahl to a knee injury.

“You see him (Barksdale) out here early working with (offensive line) Coach (Paul) Boudreau, working on sets and things like that,” Schottenheimer said. “Here’s another young player—we seem to say that a lot—but another young player getting better and better with the work.”

Stepping in to fill a need created by injury is nothing new for Barksdale, who appeared in a reserve role for in his first NFL season with the Oakland Raiders and started two games last season after his acquisition by St. Louis. However, the third-year tackle out of LSU has taken quickly to his increased role in 2013, and his progression hasn’t been lost on those around him.

“He came in right away and contributed, and it shows the kind of player he is to his to be ready,” Long said. “When Rodger went down, he came right in and did a great job. There was no loss in productivity. He’s always done a great job in studying, and when his number was called, he stepped in and played well.”