Is Joe Barksdale the future?

Dilip Vishwanat

The Rams have a new starting right tackle. Could he take over that spot?

You know the story of Wally Pipp. It's legend; so much so, that the term itself has become a part of the everyday vernacular of sport. The St. Louis Rams lost starting right tackle Rodger Saffold indefinitely with a knee sprain. Joe Barksdale is starting in his place. Have the Rams Wally Pipped their way to a new starter on the right side?

"Joe did great," Sam Bradford said Wednesday. "Joe's been in that situation before. It's not the first that time he's had to come into a game off the bench. He was thrown into a similar situation last year."

Barksdale has been here before. The Rams leaned on him to make two starts last season, against Green Bay and New England, when both Rodger Saffold and Barry Richardson were injured. He actually played left tackle in borh of those games.

Results were mixed, but the LSU product improved in practice and the Rams kept him around for another shot this season. He's getting that chance now, and it's likely to be an extended audition.

"When he's gone in he's done a good job," Jeff Fisher said. "It's just a matter of getting the practice reps. You get the practice reps during the week and you prepare and you end up playing better."

St. Louis signed Barksdale last season, in September, after the Raiders released him. A former four-star recruit, he landed in the NFL when Oakland picked him in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft. But this might be the best opportunity of his career so far.

Barksdale is excited about, though he prefers not to get the opportunity because of an injury to Saffold, as he explained to Nick Wagoner at ESPN.

His big break this year could lead to bigger things next year. Rodger Saffold's contract is up after this season. He was unhappy when the Rams signed Jake Long as a free agent, sending him to the right side a year before he has the chance to get his first free agent deal.

Those circumstances leave questions about whether or not he'll be back in St. Louis next season. His injury history and move to the right side would make the franchise tag route a pricey move for the Rams, who have a four-year, $34 million commitment to Long.

Barksdale's chance comes at an especially opportune time given Saffold's status and the Rams' continued need to find young, talented linemen to make that position group whole again.

So far, Barksdale's snaps have been limited to relief duty. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed two quarterback hits and one hurry last week against Atlanta. He'll face a tougher test against a Dallas team that's been liberal with the blitz. The Rams spent most of their first two games playing behind, which has limited his looks as a run blocker.

Being drafted by the Raiders isn't the best way to grow as a prospect. But Barksdale brings the same 6'5 325 pound frame with 36" arms that looks the part of an NFL offensive tackle. If the Rams can show him the way, maximize his potential, then the team might have found their right tackle for the future.

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