When reporters trickle into the St. Louis Rams locker room after practices and form tight circles around newsworthy players, the effervescent reserve tackle tries his damnedest to make the surrounded teammate crack a smile.
“There you go, Gene!” he shouted when Rams defensive end Eugene Sims fielded questions about a restructured contract.
“There you go, Rob!” he hollered when defensive end Robert Quinn was named NFC defensive player of the week.
But the script flipped Wednesday, when Barksdale became the center of attention instead of the guy poking fun from the outside.
“Good God!” he said when two reporters quickly turned in to 15-plus.
Barksdale, as usual, was mostly kidding. The self-described “swing tackle” who is comfortable playing at both ends of the offensive line is becoming increasingly at home in the spotlight, a result of repeated injuries to starting right tackle Rodger Saffold.
Saffold’s most recent setback, a strained MCL in the Rams’ 31-24 loss to Atlanta on Sunday, means Barksdale is the guy for now. And it’s worth wondering if he might be the guy for the future, too.
Saffold, 25, has one year left on his current contract. How he has adjusted to his switch from left to right tackle — a move forced by the team’s addition of Jake Long — has been hard to analyze due to his inability to stay on the field. First came a left shoulder injury that significantly limited his preseason reps. Then came the knee. Meanwhile a pattern has started to show. When Saffold goes down, Barksdale comes in and holds his own.
“The coach didn’t yell at me,” Barksdale quipped when asked for an analysis of his performance against Atlanta “That’s a good thing. And Sam (Bradford) is not hurt, so …”
The coach, Jeff Fisher, said Wednesday that Barksdale “has done fine.”
Bradford was more complimentary.
“Joe did great,” Bradford said. “It’s not easy to step into a game cold like that.”
Barksdale rejected a chance to say he is gunning for Saffold’s job. He joked that the team has turned to “witch doctors and voodoo” for a way to protect Saffold, but was sincere when he described the situation as “unfortunate.” Still, every NFL player wants to be a starter.
“Yeah, I mean that’s the goal,” Barksdale said. “But at the end of the day, that’s not my decision. Whether I’m a swing tackle, a starter or a practice squad guy, I’m going to come in and prepare the same regardless.”
From outside the circle came an interruption.
“I see you, Joe!” a teammate shouted. Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at email@example.com