"Hey Joe, what's the biggest difference between this year's offensive line and…"
Joe Barksdale doesn't even wait for the question to finish before giving his answer.
"The culture's changed dramatically," he says with enthusiasm.
It's impossible to deny how much change the Bolts' offensive line has undergone since the beginning of 2017. Barksdale and Matt Slauson are the only remaining starters still with the team. However, Slauson has kicked over to left guard, meaning Barksdale is the only starter from a year ago who'll line up in the same spot.
Still, the veteran wouldn't change a thing about the group of men he gets to line up with in 2017.
"We're a group of guys who like each other, gel together and want to get better," he said following Tuesday's grind of a practice. "There's no complaining. Look at today. Today was a *hard *practice, but no one's complained. We have no egos. We're just trying to get better because we know we have a lot (of potential). We have a technical protocol we rely on, and we rely on it every day. Our practices are technique based more than emotion. Chemistry is chemistry, and we can tell we have it."
Last year was chock full of adversity for the entire team, and Barksdale understands his position will always be under the microscope. When your job is to protect Philip Rivers, all it takes is one mistake to turn a dominating performance into a disaster.
"That's the nature of being a lineman," he said. "I understand it."
At that moment, a hulking presence emerges from the locker room, turns right and heads up the stairs to the weight room at Orange Coast College.
Barksdale nods his head in the direction of his newest teammate, Russell Okung.
"It's a refreshing group of guys to be around, especially someone like him. Russell is a pro. To learn from a guy like him even though I've been around for a while, it's refreshing. He's been playing at a high level for a long, long time. But really, even all the way down to the rookies, we all have a level of expectation on how we should perform."
In addition to the change in the locker room, Barksdale's personal life took a 180-degree turn as well.
It all started with the birth of his first child, Kennedy, who was born in December. His baby girl completely altered his approach on life, leading to a transformative offseason.
"Becoming a father put everything in perspective. It changed me. I don't have bad days. Even at the end of last season, I was miserable we were losing so much. But I wasn't as miserable because I got to come home and see her every day. Now, I still hate losing. I care about winning as much as ever. But being a dad changes you. You don't have bad days when you get to come home to your daughter."
Barksdale is determined to be the best father possible to Kennedy. However, he stresses how she's also helped focus him on perfecting his craft on the field.
"She's (forced me) to put the pedal to the metal. There are things I want to accomplish. I don't want her to be (disappointed) in my play. I know there's a deadline to how many years I have to play this game, and I have goals I want to accomplish for her to make her proud."