Former University of Missouri center Tim Barnes got no guarantees from the St. Louis Rams when he signed with them as an undrafted free agent in 2011. He carved out a roster spot and hoped for the best.
Barnes was rewarded when he survived a three-way training camp battle and on Wednesday was named the starting center by Rams coach Jeff Fisher.
Fisher kept reporters guessing throughout camp as the team looked at Barnes, Demetrius Rhaney and since-released former Alabama standout Barrett Jones to fill the spot. Even on Wednesday, the coach playfully acted like he hadn’t decided before finally announcing it.
“Demetrius had a great camp, he’s played really well at both positions (guard and center), but we’re going to go with Tim right now,” Fisher said. “I’m happy for Tim.”
Fisher was happy, but probably couldn’t match the joy felt by Barnes. The pride of Pettis County Northwest High in Hughesville, Mo., near Sedalia, made the rough climb from practice squad player to NFL roster player to a starter.
Not without a lot of hard work.
Barnes (6-foot-4, 306 pounds) started four games for the Rams in 2013, including one against Seattle, and has 45 games of NFL experience. Like many backups in the NFL, has thrown everything he had into getting an opportunity like the one that will present itself Sunday when the Rams play their season opener at home against the Seattle Seahawks.
“You never really know until you know,” said Barnes, who seemed taken aback at first when quizzed by reporters about when Fisher gave him the news. “It’s huge for me, my family ... I’m excited. I’m happy. I’m looking forward to getting into the season and grinding with this group of guys because I’m really excited with who we have in the room.”
New Rams quarterback Nick Foles gave his center a vote of confidence.
“Timmy’s awesome,” Foles said Wednesday. “He’s a guy that comes to work every day with a smile on his face. He’s an extremely intelligent player, does a great job of recognizing defenses and getting us into the right things. (He) really runs the O-line very well.
“He’s going to do a great job. I’m excited for him.”
Fisher liked Barnes’ added strength, which he credited for helping make the decision.
A shoulder injury to right guard Rodger Saffold early in camp, the three-way battle at center and the presence of two rookie starters in right tackle Rob Havenstein and left guard Jamon Brown kept things in a constant state of flux on the line.
Rhaney played center and guard, Brown played left guard and right guard and Barnes kept waiting for his chance.
“It’s not that big of a difference and going back ... now the guys are used to changing around,” Barnes said. “It’s just like if someone gets hurt, we have to shuffle guys around. We’re all used to playing with each other in different positions;. at the same time I’m excited to just get there and try to get that jell going.”
Mason still questionable
Running back Tre Mason, dealing with a groin injury did not practice Wednesday and will likely be a game-time decision for Sunday according to Fisher.
“I’m hopeful,” Fisher said when asked about Mason’s chances of playing. “Will probably be a game-time decision.”
With first-round pick Todd Gurley ruled out for the opener while returning from knee surgery, running backs Benny Cunningham and Isaiah Pead continue to get the bulk of the work with the first-team offense.
Mason led the Rams in rushing last season with 765 yards and four touchdowns despite sitting out the first three games.
Linebacker and special teams ace Daren Bates (knee) did some work on his own at practice Wednesday.
Seahawks will be without Chancellor
Seattle star safety Kam Chancellor, still holding out for a new contract, did not practice Wednesday and was ruled out for the season opener Sunday against the Rams by Seattle coach Pete Carroll. Dion Bailey is the expected starter at safety.
“We love Kam,” Carroll told St. Louis reporters during a Wednesday conference call. “He’s one of our favorite guys. He’s been a core guy for all of the time we’ve been here. Unfortunately, he just got on a different side of his expectations of his contract and hasn’t been able to settle that. He’s not here with us, so we’re going along, we’ve been preparing without him for some time now and we’re ready to do that.”