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Baldwin steps forward

Receiver is public’s window into Seahawks

Gregg Bell Tacoma News Tribune
RENTON, Wash. – The situation called for a stand-up guy to answer all that was going on with the Super Bowl champions. Friday’s sudden, stunning trade of Percy Harvin. Its effect on the team that fell behind 21-3 two days later at St. Louis. Where the offense goes now that Harvin, the team’s primary receiver and highest-paid player, was gone to the New York Jets. And the Seahawks being 3-3, with as many losses in five games as they had over all 19 games last season. Doug Baldwin stood up. Actually, he sat down. As players filed in and filed out of the visitors’ locker room on the ground floor of the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Baldwin folded himself into a white, plastic chair in front of his locker. He calmly and candidly answered every question about the Seahawks’ uneven state of affairs. He flatly answered whether he did indeed have a physical altercation with Harvin in August with a firm “yes.” For upward of 15 minutes, he was the Seahawks’ front man and locker-room spokesman. He looked every bit a team leader. Was that his intent? “To be honest with you,” Baldwin said before Wednesday’s practice for Sunday’s game at Carolina (3-3-1), “I was just tired. Didn’t want to move too fast.” Jokes aside, there is no doubt who has emerged as a forthright leader and locker-room thermometer, the public’s window into the Seahawks’ issues and their pulse. Russell Wilson remains the face of the franchise, a national star now on the level of Derek Jeter and Justin Timberlake. That is, if you consider the quarterback’s recent “Pass the Peace” initiative against domestic violence that has enlisted the retired New York Yankees icon and the pop-culture giant. Wilson is smoothly packaged, unfailingly offering sound bites that are as politically correct and pitch perfect as any team owner – or mom – could want. Baldwin is at times fiery, other times edgy, usually unvarnished – but always articulate, insightful and real. Whether it’s the three-year, $13 million contract extension with $8.5 million guaranteed that he signed with Seattle in May to signify he had indeed arrived as a fixture on this team and in the league after being undrafted out of Stanford in 2011, or if it’s his larger role as the undisputed No. 1 receiver in the offense now that Harvin is gone, Baldwin is becoming a standout leader and spokesman for the players on this Harvin trade and all issues Seahawks. Tuesday, The New York Times and even the Wall Street Journal published stories dissecting what’s wrong with the Seahawks. On Wednesday, national – and in fact international – media outlets descended on the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. Sports Illustrated, NFL Network even TSN from Canada were inside Seahawks headquarters. And they weren’t there to find out if Robert Turbin was going to be Seattle’s fill-in fullback again this weekend. The cameras and national folks weren’t exactly fulfilled during Pete Carroll’s weekly Wednesday press conference. The coach is clearly beyond done with discussing why he and the team suddenly gave up on Harvin Friday, after five games of him being the player around whom offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s play calling revolved, and from talking about the fallout from it. Away from the cameras, in front of his corner locker a few feet to the right of where Harvin used to dress, Baldwin stood tall again before Wednesday’s practice. What about a report by the New York Daily News last weekend that Marshawn Lynch heard about the Harvin trade, got off the team’s bus and “almost didn’t get on the bus” to the airport and flight to St. Louis? “No,” Baldwin said. “Marshawn, he was in shock, too. He went off to ask somebody – then got back on the bus. “I know there was a report that he almost didn’t get on the bus. Yeah, let me clear that up: That’s stupid. “There was no hesitation about him getting on the bus. He was going to come to St. Louis.” What about morale inside a locker room described in published reports from “sources” as having a rift against Wilson? “I think we’re good. I think we’re really good,” Baldwin said. “We’re positive and upbeat and ready to go to work.” Asked if the mood of the locker room feels any differently than it was last week following the loss to Dallas, Baldwin said: “Offensively, yeah, I think we are a little more positive because we felt like there was some growth in the offense.” “Marshawn, without a couple penalties he would have rushed for 100 yards (actually 91 at St. Louis). Then offensively we threw for over 300 yards. So, I think we are in the right direction, yes. “The mood is optimistic.” To Baldwin a lot has changed – and not just his targets going from three against the Cowboys with Harvin around to 11 against the Rams with Harvin gone, as Baldwin moved back into the slot receiver where he’s excelled for years. Against Dallas, Harvin got more of his 2014 bubble-screen-palooza and Baldwin got a season-low two receptions in three targets. Baldwin ranted in the CenturyLink Field locker room afterward about the Seahawks’ need to “quit BS-ing ourselves.” “We’ve got to be real with ourselves,” Baldwin said that day. “When we get in the meeting room we’ve got to actually pay attention to things that aren’t going right, pay attention to things that we’re not doing right. And correct them. And not just blow smoke up our tails that everything’s going to be all right just because we won the last game. Doesn’t happen that way. “We need to take responsibility for the problems that we have in this offense.” Baldwin had been sounding alarms since after the win at Washington three games ago, Seattle’s last victory before this two-game losing streak that is its first in 24 months. He didn’t like how much of the offense that night was Wilson making dashing runs on pell-mell scrambles away from Washington’s constant defensive pressure. He didn’t like the 13 penalties, three of which called back touchdowns by Harvin. But against St. Louis, the first game without Harvin, Baldwin was pleased. He obviously liked the turnaround in the offense’s play calling, performance and persona. The Seahawks lost 28-26 essentially because of two special-teams breakdowns that gave St. Louis 14 points – a 71-yard kickoff return and a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown when the Rams’ blockers faked the entire Seahawks punt-coverage unit to run to the wrong side of the field. Seattle gained 463 yards, its most in 15 games since last Nov. 10 at Atlanta. Using Lynch’s runs inside early to set up Wilson becoming the first NFL player to pass for 300 yards and 100 yards in a game, Baldwin had season highs of seven catches for 123 yards with the first touchdown of his season. The receptions were one off his career high from three seasons ago. The yards were 13 shy of his career best set that same day, Oct. 9, 2011, against the New York Giants. “I just thought we had a good plan. And it worked out better in the second half,” Baldwin said. “It was more what we were used to seeing.” This weekend the Seahawks are facing a Carolina defense that has been shredded for 37 or more points in four of its last five games. The Panthers are 29th in the NFL in pass defense and 29th in points allowed. So this feels like a “must-win” game for Seattle before it hosts Oakland (0-6) and the New York Giants (3-4) in the following two weeks, right? “No offense, but this is a dumb question,” the renewed, tell-it-like-it-is Seahawk blurted. “Every game is a must win for us. “Nobody wants to go out there like, ‘Oh, it’s OK to lose.’ Nobody’s going to say that.”
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