Betting on Baldwin

Posted Dec 22, 2011

Doug Baldwin sat out practice on Thursday because of a sore ankle, but coach Pete Carroll expects the Seahawks’ leading receiver to be on the field for the Christmas Eve matchup with the 49ers.

Doug Baldwin’s role in practice on Thursday was limited to standing, watching and studying. But will the Seahawks’ leading receiver be able to do more – a lot more – in Saturday’s home finale against the San Francisco 49ers?

The rookie free agent from Stanford has ample incentive to play, and it goes beyond his quest to finish the season as the team’s leading receiver. Baldwin played for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh at Stanford last season.

The Seahawks also have ample motivation to have Baldwin in his familiar role as the slot receiver, and it goes beyond their quest to advance to the playoffs for a second consecutive season – something that won’t happen if they don’t beat the 49ers on Christmas Eve and then the Cardinals in Arizona on New Year’s Day. The passing game already is down starting wide-outs Sidney Rice and Mike Williams, who are out with season-ending injuries, so Baldwin’s presence is not only preferred but a priority.

Baldwin turned his left ankle in practice on Wednesday, which forced him to sit out the rest of that workout as well as Thursday’s session.

“He couldn’t practice today. We’re going to rest him (until) the weekend,” coach Pete Carroll said after practice. “But we think he’s going to make it and be all right.”

Pause for a collective, “Whew.”

Because Baldwin has been good from the start, and only gotten better as the season has progressed. His 46 receptions lead the club by 14, over Rice who hasn’t played the past three games because of a concussion that led to him being placed on injured reserve. Baldwin’s 731 receiving yards lead the team by 247, also over Rice. Baldwin’s three touchdown catches tie him for the team lead with Golden Tate, who has stepped in as the starting flanker for Rice.

But scratch a little deeper and Baldwin’s somewhat modest totals take on enhanced significance. He has 23 third-down receptions, which ranks fifth in the league behind the Falcons’ Roddy White (29), Titans’ Nate Washington (27), Steelers’ Antonio Brown (26) and Saints’ running back Darren Sproles (24). And Baldwin’s 17.2-yard average on those 23 third-down catches tops the other four.

Among rookie receivers, Baldwin is third in receptions behind the Bengals’ A.J. Green (61), the fourth pick overall in April’s NFL Draft; and the Browns’ Greg Little (57), a second-round draft choice.

Baldwin, of course, was passed over in the draft by every team – multiple times – including the 49ers and his former head coach.

“Well, I should have drafted him,” was Harbaugh’s first response this week when asked about Baldwin. “Kicking myself for not doing that. And at the same time, really happy for Doug.

“I’ve seen him really grow the whole season, from preseason. He’s been relentless. … He lines up in a lot of different places and does a lot of different things for Seattle. It’s been great to see him, knowing him the way I know him. I can’t say enough.”

Although Harbaugh probably saw enough in the season opener at Candlestick Park. That’s when Baldwin took a pass from Tarvaris Jackson and turned it into a 55-yard touchdown, running right past Harbaugh on the 49ers sideline and he headed toward the end zone that’s in the same direction as Stanford.

Baldwin led the Seahawks with four catches for 83 yards in the game, and has been the team’s leading receiver – or shared the lead – six other times.

“He just has had a great season for us – had a great camp, a terrific preseason and has just been rock-solid throughout,” Carroll said. “We’re thrilled to have him. We love his competitiveness, his toughness and more than just the finesse things he brings, he’s such a great competitor and is right in the middle of the mentality that we love to have on this football team.

“To be able to do all that is such a great accomplishment and he’s surpassed all kinds of guys that were drafted way higher than where he came in. He’s got a natural chip on his shoulder, but it’s a little bigger because of that I think.”

That’s been part of Baldwin’s secret to surprising success – the ability to focus on what’s in front of him, while using his overlooked past as motivation for the present and future.

“He’s just such a baller that he’s going to be a real big part of this program for a long time I hope,” Carroll said.

Starting with the Christmas Eve game against the 49ers and his former college coach.