Rams center Barnes set to make first career start

ST. LOUIS — For a change, Tim Barnes has the upper hand when it comes to trash-talking with fellow St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Barrett Jones.

Barnes is set to make his first career start at center Sunday at Arizona in place of injured Scott Wells.

He plans on watching alma mater Missouri play Auburn in the SEC championship game Saturday — or at least most of it before evening meetings. Alabama, where Jones starred on three national title teams, is an unexpected outsider.

“Yeah, I mean, I’m not going to say too much,” Barnes said Wednesday. “We’ll see what happens after this weekend.”

Barnes was a three-year starter at center for Missouri from 2008-10.

Before playing the second half of last week’s loss at San Francisco after Wells broke his left ankle, he’d gotten only special teams duty in 26 games the past two seasons with St. Louis. He did get one snap in a blowout loss to the Patriots in London.

“Tim’s done a great job,” coach Jeff Fisher said Wednesday. “You see the skill set, and he’s dedicated, he’s a pro, he prepares. He’s ready to go.”

Fisher also has rooting interest in the SEC championship game. His son, Trent, is a junior backup safety at Auburn.

Fisher joked that he’d be “rooting for the Tigers” — the nickname of both teams.

“I said this the other day, what a great accomplishment on behalf of both programs,” Fisher said. “I will be watching it as a dad, however, so you’ll know which way I’m leaning.”

Against the 49ers, Barnes got extended playing time for the first time since the preseason finale against Baltimore. He said there wasn’t enough time to be nervous.

“So, obviously I was a little rusty,” he said. “There’s things I’ve got to work on and I’m going to pick on myself and make sure I get better. I was pleased with myself, but obviously there’s room for improvement.”

One benefit is that Barnes has gotten a lot of work with quarterback Kellen Clemens, who was the backup before Sam Bradford’s season-ending knee injury in Week 7.

“So, it’s kind of just like riding an old bike,” Clemens said Wednesday. “You just kind of get back on and go. We didn’t hardly even take any snaps at halftime last week, and didn’t have any problems, so I’m not going to lose a lot of sleep over it.”

Jones was a fourth-round pick by the Rams this April after a highly decorated career at Alabama. He could be active on game day for the first time, as Barnes’ backup.

The Crimson Tide were No. 1 in the BCS before losing on Chris Davis’ game-ending 100-plus yard return of a missed field goal that put Auburn in the SEC title game. Jones hasn’t talked much during the season because he’s not contributing, and said only “Ah, it was meant to be,” before retreating from his locker stall.

Barnes said he watched the game from start to finish “and I haven’t watched a whole college game in a while.”

“You’re talking about one of the greatest finishes there has maybe ever been,” Barnes added. “It was pretty cool.”

Barnes is from tiny Hughesville, Mo., in west-central Missouri. There are few holdovers from his playing days, but he regularly talks with left tackle Justin Britt, keeps in touch with offensive coordinator Josh Henson — his offensive line coach in college — and exchanges the occasional text messages with coach Gary Pinkel.