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While the offensive players were watching video of practice the other day, Doug Baldwin suddenly appeared from seemingly nowhere to be on the receiving end of a completion.
“Somebody from the back of the room yelled, ‘That’s not separation; that’s a divorce,’ ” quarterback Charlie Whitehurst offered through a smile on Saturday between on-field sessions at the Seahawks’ training camp.
“He was so wide open. That’s because he’s got a lot of suddenness and gets a lot of separation.”
As good as Baldwin has been on the practice field, the rookie free agent wide receiver from Stanford was even better in Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Chargers in San Diego. The pre-game anticipation when it came to the rookie wide-outs started with seeing Ricardo Lockette flash his sprinter speed. In the end, however, the night belonged to Baldwin, who flaunted his versatility.
In addition to catching a team-high four passes, Baldwin also had a 41-yard kickoff return and a 20-yard punt return. Then there was Baldwin also covering kicks.
“The only special teams I did at Stanford was returning kicks,” he said. “I haven’t made a tackle in like seven years, so it was kind of new to me running kickoff (coverage) two days ago.”
Watching Baldwin since he was signed on July 26 – and especially against the Chargers – prompts the obvious question: Why wasn’t this guy drafted?
Size (a shade under 5 feet 10, 189 pounds). Speed (4.48 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day in March). Or in his case, a lack of prototypical numbers in each category.
“I’m not really worried about it,” Baldwin said of being passed over in the April NFL Draft. “I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.”
And things definitely are happening in a positive way for Baldwin in his first NFL training camp.
He has the smarts you’d expect from a receiver who not only played at Stanford, but graduated from the prestigious university with a degree in science, technology and society. Baldwin was a member of the National Honor Society at Gulf Breeze (Fla.) High School, where he also lettered in basketball and was high jumper and long jumper.
As for his football I.Q., Baldwin played for now-49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and with already NFL-ready QB Andrew Luck.
That’s apparent when asked to name his best attribute as a receiver. “Creativity,” Baldwin said. “At Stanford, we had parameters for our routes. But our coaches gave us the freedom to be creative.
“We knew the timing, where we had to be and when we had to be there. But they allowed us to be creative to get to that spot. So I feel like being able to do that in the slot is going to be key to me getting open and getting separation.”
A valuable lesson already learned. As Bobby Engram always said while excelling in the slot for the Seahawks, the play might be drawn up one way, but it rarely looks the same once the ball is snapped. Engram, a member of the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team, holds the franchise single-season reception record (94 in 2007) and also was the leading receiver on the Super Bowl team in 2005.
“You’ve got to navigate in there,” Baldwin said.
As Baldwin is showing, he can do a lot – and it’s the versatility, as well as productivity, that a rookie free agent needs if he’s going to land a spot on the 53-man roster or practice squad.
“I would say that I’m a competitor,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what position the coaches put me in, I like to excel at whatever I’m doing – whether it be on the football field or off the football. So I take every challenge and opportunity as a chance to get better and be great.”
So far, he’s doing his best work from the slot.
“Doug really has a feel for getting open,” Whitehurst said. “Where the holes in the zones are, and then obviously his ability to beat man coverage is pretty awesome.”
Baldwin just needs to keep it up in Saturday night’s preseason home opener against the Minnesota Vikings at CenturyLink Field – and beyond – to beat the odds and remain with the team in the regular season.
“I’m not going to be perfect,” he said. “But my goal is to strive for perfection. That’s just my mentality. This has been my dream since I was 6-years old. So it doesn’t matter what’s being thrown at me. Like I said, this is my dream, so I’m going to take full advantage of it.”