ST. LOUIS — Glancing up from his locker stall, Joe Barksdale was surprised to see he'd been surrounded by tape recorders and cameras.
This is how fast it happens, going from large but anonymous 329-pound backup to starting right tackle for the St. Louis Rams for perhaps the next few weeks and the player everyone wants to hear from. Although he wasn't letting the attention go to his head, Barksdale was emboldened enough after practice Wednesday to bark at rookies to turn down their boom boxes while he's talking.
Barksdale took some speech classes at LSU, so he's prepared for media throngs and quickly showed he was up to the task with comments spiced with wisecracks. The Rams (1-1) believe he's ready for the job, too, and a third career start in three seasons this week at Dallas (1-1).
Barksdale was impressive playing most of the last three quarters in Week 2 at Atlanta after Rodger Saffold injured his left knee in the first half.
"Joe's done fine," coach Jeff Fisher said. "Yeah, he's gone out there and did fine. He had a very, very productive day last year against the Packers, and when he's gone in he's done a good job."
For Barksdale the day after the game, silence was golden.
"I mean, the coach didn't yell at me, so that's a good thing," Barksdale said with a laugh. "It doesn't hurt."
Sam Bradford hasn't been sacked in four consecutive games, an achievement Barksdale now has a hand in. He did his part in a second-half comeback that fell a touchdown short, joining a unit anchored by former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long and center Scott Wells.
The last time the Rams went four games without allowing a sack was 1973, when John Hadl got sacked just 17 times all year for a team that won the NFC West.
"Joe did great," Bradford said. "It's not easy to step into a game cold like that."
As for the often-injured Saffold, who missed time in the preseason with a shoulder injury and was sidelined six games last year with a knee injury, Barksdale joked "We're trying to get some witch doctors and some voodoo going.'"
"No, Rodger's a great guy," he added. "And it's really unfortunate what's happened to him."
Saffold was carted off for the second straight game, both after taking blows to the left knee. He returned after a short absence in the opener but is likely to miss at least a few games.
Fisher said Saffold was "day to day" but also noted he'd been "lucky" the injury hadn't been serious.
Barksdale was second-team All-Southeastern Conference his junior year and started the final 39 games of his college career but didn't last long in Oakland after being drafted in the third round in 2011. The Rams claimed him on waivers last September after he'd been released, and Barksdale started two games at left tackle last season in place of injured Wayne Hunter.
He'd have stepped in for Saffold then, too, except Saffold was already out with a shoulder injury.
The Rams claimed Barksdale off waivers because he was versatile, playing several spots with Oakland, and could help on special teams. Barksdale is right-handed so right tackle is naturally a more comfortable spot, but he's happy as long as he's on the field.
Running back Daryl Richardson (foot), cornerback Cortland Finnegan (nose) and defensive end Chris Long (hip) were among nine players on the injury report who did not practice. Fisher expected Richardson was among several players held out who probably could have practiced, part of his strategy for preparing not just for the Cowboys this weekend but also for the 49ers next Thursday night on short rest.
Others on the list were Saffold, defensive ends William Hayes (hip) and Eugene Sims (foot), tight end Mike McNeill (chest), guard Chris Williams (foot), cornerback Quinton Pointer (thigh)., while safety Darian Stewart (thigh) was limited.