EARTH CITY, Mo. -- By the time his Missouri Tigers had dispatched Texas A&M and earned a trip to the SEC title game last Saturday night, Rams center Tim Barnes already had a pretty good idea that this week would be a big one for him.
What he didn't know then was that less than 24 hours later, this week would take on even further meaning. Barnes closely follows his alma mater, and a chance to win the SEC championship and potentially play for a national title was big.
But when starting center Scott Wells left Sunday's game in San Francisco with a broken left fibula, Barnes suddenly found himself in a far more important spot in his own profession.
Barnes took over for Wells then and is now poised to hold down the starting center job for the final four weeks. On Saturday, he'll watch his Tigers play Auburn for the conference championship and Sunday he'll make his first career start against Arizona.
"Obviously the most thing important here is doing my job with the Rams and then the fan inside is also excited for what Missouri is going to do," Barnes said. "It's a huge step for the program and I think I'll be able to watch most of it before meetings start. It'll be exciting."
Barnes has been with the Rams for three years, originally coming from Baltimore as an undrafted free agent to be a member of the practice squad in 2011. After toiling there, Barnes quickly endeared himself to Rams coach Jeff Fisher and offensive line coach Paul Boudreau with his intelligence and technical abilities.
It was enough to land Barnes on the active roster in 2012 and again in 2013 though he said he'd be lying if he didn't admit to wondering if he'd make the team each year.
"I think everyone sweats to some extent," Barnes said. "Of course I was. I came in, I wasn't a drafted guy and I have to prove myself. So whenever you are always having to prove yourself you are always kind of peeking over your shoulder hoping you did the best. You go out, do your best and if you give your best and it's not good enough that's the way it is. I've got an opportunity here and I'm going to do the best I can."
For the better part of the past two seasons, Barnes has made his living as a blocker on special teams and, well, that's about it. He played one offensive snap in the Rams' loss to New England in London last year but otherwise his game work with the offense had been limited to the preseason.
In 2012, Barnes was behind Robert Turner as the backup center and when Turner departed for Tennessee, he kind of quietly moved up the depth chart as the backup to Wells. All along, Barnes had prepared himself to step in at a moment's notice.
When the moment finally came in San Francisco, Barnes didn't have time to be nervous.
"I was getting myself ready and just didn't have time for it," Barnes said. "I'm out there with my guys, the other O-linemen, and they are getting me ready. Going out there with those guys is a big confidence boost."
Barnes played 44 snaps against the Niners, a hefty increase over the one he'd played against the Patriots. By all accounts, Barnes fared pretty well against one of the league's tougher defenses though he didn't go without his share of mistakes.
In the third quarter, the Rams were flagged for delay of game when Barnes had a miscommunication with quarterback Kellen Clemens and didn't get the snap off in time.
Aside from that obvious error, Fisher was pleased with Barnes' performance and is confident he can get the job done in the final four games.
"Tim's done a great job," Fisher said. "Last year in the preseason when he got a chance to play, he played well. You see the skillset, and he's dedicated, he's a pro, he prepares. He's ready to go, so Tim will be fine."
Helping matters is the fact that Barnes, as the backup center, will be working with Clemens, the backup quarterback. The backup tag means the pair has played in tandem plenty over the past two seasons, which should help eliminate any more glitches in terms of communication or penalties.
"The good news is I've been taking snaps from 'Barnesy' for a couple years," Clemens said. "So, it's kind of just like riding an old bike. 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."
In critiquing his own performance, Barnes said he thought he played "all right" against the Niners and noted that there is plenty of room for improvement moving forward.
With his first start fast approaching, Barnes has more time to develop the butterflies that go with such an event but also is quick to point out that the extra reps with the first team in practice this week and the knowledge that he is the starter can help alleviate some of those nerves.
"There's that ease of you are not having to worry about ‘Am I ready, am I ready?'" Barnes said. "You get to the point on Saturday night or Sunday morning where you're like ‘I'm ready.' And then I can go out and just get ready to play rather than sit there and maybe do a quarter and maybe I still think I'm ready and then you don't know because you haven't been in there."