RENTON, Wash. – While the rest of the wide receivers were going through agility drills, Doug Baldwin joined teammates almost literally twice his size.
For several minutes, Baldwin lined up with the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive linemen, slapping at the pads worn on the forearms of defensive line coach Travis Jones. It’s a drill designed for pass rushers to focus on getting off blocks.
And it works quite well for wide receivers trying to escape the hands of grabby cornerbacks.
“With the defensive backs trying to put their hands on me, using the techniques that Cliff (Avril) and Mike (Bennett) have taught me about my hand placement on the defensive back’s hands trying to get myself around them. The different techniques they’ve taught me I just try and practice it in that drill,” Baldwin said.
That specific drill – suggested Avril and Bennett – is another example of Baldwin’s evolution.
Once primarily known for feeling dissed in every manner possible, Baldwin is no longer “Angry Doug” all the time. His motivation remains the same, but he’s now content entering his sixth season. It helps that Baldwin is coming off the finest season of his career that concluded with him getting rewarded with a $46 million, four-year contract extension. The contract pays him like one of the premier wide receivers in the NFL and kept him from reaching free agency after the 2016 season.
“It meant a lot to be recognized, to be appreciated and plainly as a human being all of us want to feel loved and appreciated and valued,” Baldwin said. “When you put a number to it, honestly, it’s really not about the money, but the money does equate to respect and appreciation and love. It feels great, but at the same time nothing really changes. When we are on the football field we are still going to work because we have an ultimate goal to get to. It does feel good to have that behind me so we can focus on the field.”
Baldwin was at the center of Seattle’s offensive progression in 2015. While the Seahawks will always be a run-first team, they discovered a quick passing game during the latter half of last season where Baldwin thrived. Baldwin finished the year with 78 catches and 14 touchdowns, tied for the NFL lead. Eleven of those 14 TDs came in the final six weeks, including a three-game span with eight TD catches.
The success of last season seemed to validate what Baldwin claimed for years: that if given the opportunity, Seattle’s passing game could be among the best in the league.
While the underlying expectation is that Baldwin needs to come close to replicating last year to avoid having it considered an anomaly, it may not happen simply because of Seattle’s offensive focus.
“It is a mindset you have to have when you come to the Seattle Seahawks, when you come to any run-first offense you have to realize you are going to be called upon to block, more so than scoring touchdowns,” Baldwin said. “That is a reality we face year in and year out.”
To that point, Baldwin’s goal has become efficiency rather than raw numbers. He’ll never see anything close to the 193 targets Antonio Brown had last year, so Baldwin must make the most of the throws that come his way. Last year, Baldwin caught nearly 76 percent of the passes thrown in his direction.
Even someone who has been around Baldwin for close to a decade can see the continuing evolution of his teammate both at Stanford and with the Seahawks.
“I told him the other day he had a fantastic feel for the game. He is just a man among boys right now,” Richard Sherman said. “He knows his spots, he knows where he needs to be on the field, he knows when he needs to be there and he and Russell (Wilson) just have a great rapport going on right now. I think in terms of the skill set was the same, he’s still as fast, he’s still as explosive, but the feel wasn’t the same. He would be running into coverage sometimes, now he’s running into spots making sure he’s open. Russell is hitting him on time. He’s not juking and jiving, he’s making his one cut … he’s more confident in what he’s doing.”
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