A good-sized semi-circle of media members were waiting at Matt Barkley’s locker Wednesday afternoon after practice to speak with the quarterback who may have to make his eighth career start on Sunday in Tennessee. Barkley, recognizing that the gaggle of reporters and cameras were waiting to interview him, couldn’t resist.
“Hold on guys, I’ll find Duke Williams for you,” he said in reference to his locker room neighbor and practice squad receiver.
Now in his seventh year in the NFL, Barkley for the first time in a long time is at ease. After signing a two-year contract extension this past offseason, Barkley feels comfortable with his surroundings, comfortable with his role and most importantly comfortable with Buffalo’s offensive scheme.
“I think this is the most comfortable I’ve felt with an offense at this point and I’m playing free really,” Barkley told Buffalobills.com. “I’m taking what the defense gives me. Taking shots when I have to, but when it’s smart to, not really forcing anything.”
“He’s a pro,” said offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. “I’d say he’s worked really hard to understand our system. We’ve worked really hard to understand him, his strengths and weaknesses. He’s had a whole preseason with us. He knows our offense. He’s here for a reason. And we’re glad we have him.”
Brian Daboll likely said some of those same words following Buffalo’s Week 11 throttling of the Jets last November, when Barkley entered the fray in Buffalo to be the latest addition in a revolving door cast at quarterback.
Entering Week 11, with all of 12 days of preparation in an offense he had not laid eyes on before, Barkley, now with his sixth NFL team, was going to make just his seventh career start.
The result was an efficient 15-25 passing performance for 232 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 41-10 victory. One of those scoring throws went to of all people, left tackle Dion Dawkins.
“He’s special,” said Dawkins. “He threw a touchdown pass to me, but really he’s a great quarterback. Even if the touchdown pass never happened, Barkley is special. He has a history and he’s a winner.”
Dawkins is clearly referring to Barkley’s star-studded college career at USC where he completed 64 percent of his passes and threw almost three times as many touchdowns (116) as interceptions (48).
And though his NFL career has largely been a series of short stops with a handful of clubs, Barkley has made inroads in the Buffalo locker room.
Partly because his teammates recognize how he has persevered over the last five years to carve out a career and partly because of the kind of teammate he is to everyone in the locker room.
“He’s a great dude. Our families have gotten really close. He has a vibrant spirit about him and he excites guys,” said Lorenzo Alexander. “He’s a lot like Josh in that way where guys naturally gravitate toward him. He does a great job of leading guys and making sure everyone is going in the right direction.”
“That’s the type of guy he is even off the field,” said John Brown. “He’s lifting guys up and cheering guys on and he’s the same way on the field.”
Now preparing for the possibility of making his second career start for the Bills on Sunday, Barkley is taking the approach backup quarterbacks must always take. Assume you’re starting and be ready.
A task that is much easier now with 11 months of experience in Buffalo’s offense than the 12 days of preparation he had in his first start for Buffalo last November.
“It was a little limited last time with my knowledge of the offense, but we got it done,” said Barkley smiling. “I’ve come a long way just in my total grasp of what we’re trying to do with all the calls and checks and audibles. So I definitely feel much more prepared than last time.”
“He’s well respected by our team. He’s earned everything he’s gotten here,” said head coach Sean McDermott. “You’ve seen what he’s done and how he carries himself week to week, day to day around the building. He’s highly prepared every week whether he’s played or he hasn’t, which is the life of a backup quarterback. There’s a lot of internal belief in Matt Barkley, and we know he will be ready to go if need be this week.”
Scroll through to see the best photos from Buffalo's practice as they prepare for Week 5 against the Tennessee Titans.