RENTON, Wash. – Before he leaves his home or takes the field for a Seahawks practice or game, one of the last things receiver Doug Baldwin often sees is a poster he had made up a few years ago with two simple commands.
At the top are the words “Tip Of The Ball.’’ On the bottom are the words “Stay Focused.”
No one thing leads to the kind of season Baldwin had this year, of course, a season that ranks as among the best in franchise history.
Baldwin finished with 78 receptions, seventh most in team history, including 14 touchdowns, a Seahawks record, with 10 coming in a four-game stretch in which he tied Cris Carter and Calvin Johnson as the only players in NFL history to catch at least two touchdowns in four consecutive games.
But Baldwin believes you can never know too much – or never be reminded often enough of the game’s most fundamental principles.
It’s why two years ago he began text-messaging a Seahawks great with whom he finds himself increasingly linked in the team record book, the man who gave him the advice that is on those posters – Hall of Famer Steve Largent.
The two met in 2013 when Largent was in Seattle for a 30th anniversary of the 1983 Seahawks team that reached the AFC Championship Game.
Baldwin got Largent’s number from a member of the front office and texted him asking if he had any specific receiving advice.
“He texted me and asked me some things that I carried through training camp and things that I would work on and stuff like that,” Largent said. “I talked about the release off the ball and what I thought about catching the ball and just a few ideas like that.”
It might seem an obvious thing – someone in Baldwin’s position reaching out to Largent.
But Largent said it was the first time he could recall an active Seahawks receiver contacting him in such a manner for advice. Largent allows that for years after playing he was a member of Congress and not as available as he is now.
Still, it resonated with Largent, who said he thinks it says something about what he thinks is Baldwin’s greatest trait.
“His competitive spirit,’’ Largent said. “I mean, nobody wants to win more than Doug Baldwin does. He’s a small receiver, but he makes big plays.’’
Baldwin said he has tried to study, and when possible contact, some of the great receivers of the past. He said receivers he has studied include Largent, Andre Rison (who played from 1989-2000), Derrick Mason (1997-2011) and Steve Smith (currently with the Baltimore Ravens). All are 6 feet or smaller who like the 5-10 Baldwin had to overcome lack of stature to play big on the field.
Baldwin watched the others play while growing up, but he had to go back and look at old film of Largent, who played from 1976-89. And what Baldwin said stood out was “his ability to catch the football and his focus. If you want to be one of the best, you’ve got to ask from the best, so I reached out to him asking him how he practiced catching the ball.”
Largent, who retired in 1989 with the NFL record for receptions in a career (819), yards (13,089) and touchdowns (100), told Baldwin that one of his keys was to focus on the tip of the ball when it was in the air and not the entire ball.
Interestingly, it was something Largent picked up in 1980 during a trip to a clay-pigeon target range in Redmond.
A shooter he met there told Largent “to focus on the leading edge of the clay pigeon when we were shooting, and I transferred it to football and not watching the ball but the tip of the ball,’’ Largent said.
Largent said it helped because, “It gave me a specific thing to focus on instead of ‘just focus on the ball.’ ”
Baldwin recalled what he took away from Largent: “He mostly talked about focusing on catching the football. It’s not necessarily about the physical aspects when people say receivers have a lot of drops or can’t catch the ball. It’s that they are not focusing on the right things. That their mind-set is not in the right spot.
“What I took from him is the techniques he utilized catching the football and being more efficient at it.’’
Specifically, watching the tip. So shortly after the texting sessions with Largent, Baldwin had the posters made, and he has them up at his home and in his lockers at the team facility in Renton and at CenturyLink Field.
This season Baldwin has emerged as one of the NFL’s steadiest receivers.
According to the analytics website Pro Football Focus, Baldwin had the second-fewest rate of drops in the NFL this year, catching 78 of 80 catchable balls, behind only Kansas City’s Jeremy Maclin, who had one drop in 88 catchable balls.
Baldwin also was ranked second by PFF in rate of receptions per target with 78 receptions on 99 targets (78.79 percent), behind only Danny Amendola of New England (65-80, 81.25 percent).
Baldwin also takes pride that he now has a similar texting relationship with Smith, who was one of his childhood heroes and the reason that he wears jersey No. 89.
Taking bits and pieces from receivers such as Smith and Largent, and maybe even earning comparisons with them, is part of one ultimate goal.
“I’m just trying to be the best Doug Baldwin I can be,’’ he said.
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