A three-year starter at left tackle for West Virginia, Barclay appeared overmatched at guard. That was apparent during the daily one-on-one pass-blocking drills. Unofficially, Barclay was 12-9 through the Aug. 5 practice, one of the worst winning percentages among offensive linemen.
However, Barclay began finding a comfort level, and the talent level that made him a 39-game starter at one of the nation's offensive juggernauts began to show.
During the next week, Barclay went 8-2 in the one-on-ones to improve to 20-12.
Barclay's improved performance in individual drills and team settings opened the eyes of offensive line James Campen. While the coaching staff has been roundly criticized at times for a "musical chairs" approach to the offensive line, it's unavoidable when only seven or eight blockers are on the 46-man gameday roster. When there's an injury, the goal is to get the best five blockers on the field, even if that means some shuffling. Even the starters (other than center Jeff Saturday) have to play multiple positions, and that's especially true for the backups. Tackles have to play guard; guards have to play center.
So, when Campen approached Barclay about going outside to tackle, he took it as a compliment.
"Yeah, I take it like that with him trying to see if I can play tackle and not being just a one-position type of guy," Barclay said on Sunday. "He told me that he's got a lot of tape on me at guard and he wants to see me play tackle and see if I can be versatile. I took that with a good attitude and went with it."
Against Cincinnati on Thursday, Barclay played right guard in the third quarter and right tackle in the fourth quarter.
It was a big challenge, and Barclay flashed some promise. For four years at West Virginia, he played on the left side, so going to right guard and right tackle meant learning opposite footwork.
"I played left my whole career at West Virginia," Barclay said. "He started me at right and, at first, I was like, ‘This is going to be hard because I'm not used to it,' but I kind of felt stronger at it for some reason. Being a right-handed person, right side they say is usually easier."
Campen saw enough to be intrigued that Barclay could become a developmental prospect at a position group that so far has yielded no standouts among its seven-man rookie class.
"The thing that's been difficult for him is going from a left-handed stance to a right-handed stance," Campen said on Monday. "We're moving him a little bit across the ball. He was a left tackle at West Virginia so he's adjusting to that and he's getting better and better each week. For a young guy, the thing about him is he plays very hard and works his butt off and he works to finish. He had a couple nice plays in the last game where he was finishing guys. What he needs to learn is how do you finish? Keeping your feet underneath you, keeping a base, and not just playing (like) at West Virginia where I'm bigger than the other guy and I can shove him with my upper body. That's what he's working on."
Despite the unsettled nature of the backup positions beyond Evan Dietrich-Smith, Barclay is a long shot to make the final roster, even if he produces a big performance on Thursday against Kansas City. He's had a good week of practice, including a a 2-0 mark in the one-on-ones (final record of 29-16) and a big finishing blocking on Daniel Muir to spring Cedric Benson on Sunday. Still, Barclay knows a golden opportunity awaits. It's not the 53-man roster, but the practice squad isn't a bad consolation prize for an undrafted rookie.
"I can see myself getting better but, at the same time, it's not good enough and I've got to keep improving," he said. "You can't say you like where you're at right now. You've got to keep fighting. If I go out with a good last impression and show I can play a couple of positions, that would help me out in the long run."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.