Meet Joe Barksdale, the one constant on the Rams' O-line
AUG 22, 2014 10:41a ET
ST. LOUIS -- Seven years ago this past spring, Joe Barksdale showed up in Baton Rouge, La., determined to show the non-believers back in his hometown of Detroit that he would become one of the best defensive tackles LSU had ever seen.
After all, Barksdale -- now an offensive tackle with the Rams -- was one of the most highly recruited defensive linemen in the country, was a Parade All-American and had offers from Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State in addition to LSU. His 3.5 GPA and December graduation from prestigious Cass Tech enabled him to enroll early and participate in spring practice at LSU in 2007.
"I had my first and last collegiate sack in the spring-ball scrimmage," Barksdale says, laughing, "and by the time summer camp started I was an offensive lineman."
The reason for the switch is simple to understand. "We were loaded at defensive tackle," he says.
There was Glenn Dorsey, who became the fifth pick in the 2008 NFL Draft by Kansas City (now with San Francisco); Tyson Jackson, the third pick in the 2009 draft, also by Kansas City (now with Atlanta); and Ricky Jean Francois, a seventh-round pick by San Francisco who is still with the 49ers.
"A lot of guys in Detroit said I wasn't going to play at LSU, so I was eager to play when I got there," Barksdale says. "And they told me I would redshirt as a defensive tackle because we had so many guys. They also said they needed help on the offensive line, so if that was my way to get on the field, that's my way to get on the field. I ended up liking it a lot, so I just stayed over there."
Barksdale was the first Michigan player to go to LSU, and he readily acknowledges a bias people in his area have for "football down south."
"People said I couldn't do it," he recalls. "People up north think there's a different brand of football down south because guys have been playing longer and guys are bigger, faster and stronger. At the end of the day, we're all human beings. It's not like they can fly and we can't. That's been a motivating factor throughout sports and just in life. People said I couldn't do it, so I wanted to show them I could."
And he did. Barksdale got on the field his freshman year for 57 snaps from scrimmage and 98 special teams plays, then became the starting right tackle as a sophomore. He ended up starting 39 consecutive games, with his final 13 at left tackle.
That resulted in being a third-round pick by the Oakland Raiders in 2011, the lockout year. It was also the year the Raiders lost their owner when Al Davis died on Oct. 8. Davis' son Mark took over, and after an 8-8 season, coach Hue Jackson was fired and replaced by Dennis Allen. With Greg Knapp and Frank Pollack the new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, respectively, the Raiders changed from a power running scheme to zone blocking.
Suddenly, on Sept. 26, after the third game of the season, Barksdale was waived and was quickly claimed by the Rams and Giants. He played in just six games with the Rams that season but started two games at left tackle. Last season, he took over at right tackle when Rodger Saffold was injured and ended up starting 13 games.
Now, with Saffold at right guard, Barksdale seems entrenched as the Rams' starting right tackle. He's rarely talked about when the line is discussed, but he has become the one constant on the line. With other players missing games, Barksdale quietly goes about his job and never misses even a practice, much less a game.
"Joe took advantage of his opportunity," coach Jeff Fisher says. "The timing was perfect for us. We needed the help, we got him in here, he learned. He was very consistent last year. He's been very consistent right now. He's got some guys out there to work against. I mean he's learning a lot from (defensive end) Chris (Long) and he gives Chris all he can handle out on the practice field. So it's very competitive out there ... and he's very durable."
Is that durability just good fortune? "I pray a lot," Barksdale says. "That's all I can really attribute it to. I've taken some hits in games and practices. It's God, man."
Barksdale almost has to pinch himself when he considers where he was when he arrived on that September day in 2012 and where he is now.
"I was talking to my friends the other day about that," he says. "It's a totally different feeling from when I got here. I didn't have any game experience, really. I played, but now as a starter and getting real minutes, from a technique standpoint it's a total different world. The understanding of a playbook, team cohesiveness; everything has gone a good way."
Still, he knows how much more he can improve.
"I'm still getting it all together," he says. "I talk to (left tackle) Jake (Long), (center) Scott (Wells); a lot of these guys have been playing offensive line since they were 7, 8 (years old). I didn't start playing football until I was 15. It's only been seven years I've been playing offensive tackle. I still have a whole lot to learn."
It's a good thing he's learning from the best, including offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. "Him and (assistant line coach) Andy Dickerson are great," Barksdale says. "Most offensive line coaches are happy when you're just blocking a guy, stopping a guy. Coach Boo is the kind of guy that will point out, 'You blocked him, but it's not going to work all the time. We need to get it fixed.' He's always on us about everything. He doesn't emphasize one thing more than the other one. He expects great things out of us and he holds us to a higher standard. Because of that we hold ourselves to a higher standard."
Now, as the regular season approaches, the line has high goals. How good can this line be?
"As good as we want to be," he says. "We huddled up after the first preseason game and let each other know we're not out here just to practice and go through the motions and get the playbook down. You play to win, first of all. And in that you don't just want to be someone that thinks, 'OK, it's just a job.' We want to be the best offensive line in football. That's the attitude we come to practice with every day."
And when Joe Barksdale comes to practice every day, he knows he has proved a lot of people wrong. That must be a pretty good feeling, right?
Barksdale smiles and says, quietly: "It is."
Howard Balzer can be heard daily on H & Friends from 9-11 a.m. on FoxSportsRadio 1490.