Doug Baldwin flaunting his big-play ability

Posted Oct 4, 2013

Has anyone in the passing game made more big plays during the Seahawks’ 4-0 start than Doug Baldwin? The answer to that is as obvious as the growing number of big plays Baldwin is making.

At one point during the first impromptu interview session in front of his corner cubicle in the Seahawks’ locker room, Doug Baldwin offered, “I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder.”

That was in 2011, when Baldwin was a rookie free agent and coming off an eight-catch, 136-yard performance in an upset of the New York Giants in The Meadowlands. Baldwin, it seems, was selling himself short.

“Doug plays with two chips on his shoulder. That’s what I’ve always thought,” Andrew Luck said this week.

And Luck should know, because the second-year quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts and Baldwin were teammates at Stanford, where this whole “Angry Doug Baldwin” thing is rooted.

Sunday, Baldwin and the unbeaten Seahawks will play Luck and the 3-1 Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis. So it’s a good time to wonder just where the Seahawks would be if not for Baldwin and his shoulder chip – or chips – this season. Maybe 2-2, instead of the first 4-0 start in franchise history.

That might sound farfetched for a 5-foot-10 slot receiver who has 12 catches in the first quarter of his third NFL season, until you take a close look at those receptions.

Without Baldwin’s tippy-toe effort along the sideline to haul in a 24-yard pass from Russell Wilson on a third-and-7 play in the fourth quarter of last week’s game against the Texans in Houston, Jon Ryan ends up punting from the end zone. The Seahawks don’t drive 98 yards in 14 plays to their first touchdown, and they don’t win in overtime 23-20.

Without Baldwin’s 13-yard reception on a third-and-3 play late in the fourth quarter of the season opener in Carolina – the last in his seven-catch, 91-yard outing – the Seahawks have to punt the ball to the Panthers. They don’t burn the final 5½ minutes off the clock with a 12-play, 67-yard drive, and the Panthers get one last chance to erase the Seahawks’ 12-7 lead.

Still not convinced just how important Baldwin’s contributions have been? Nine of his 12 receptions have produced first downs, and seven of his catches have come on third down.

“Doug is a terrific inside receiver because of his quickness,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s got exceptional quickness, and his sense adds to that – he’s got savvy and instincts for finding the spaces. But he really has very, very good quickness to get in and out of breaks and set things up.

“So we try to utilize to do that. He’s like a lot of the classic slot guys that have that knack and sense inside. That, coupled with the chemistry that he and Russell have and continue to grow, makes him a very valuable target in those situations. And he’s obviously a big-play guy, too. He can make the big play when the chance comes. So he’s come through a lot for us this year.”

Just don’t call Baldwin a slot receiver. And at least not in front of him.

“He hates being labeled a slot receiver,” said Richard Sherman, the Seahawks’ All-Pro cornerback who also played with Baldwin and Luck at Stanford. “Doug is a great receiver. He’s always improving. And he’s frustrated because he’s being limited.”

OK, if not slot receiver, than what title does Baldwin prefer?

“Nothing against slot receivers, I think having a good slot receiver is vital to an offense,” he said, standing in front of the same cubicle in the locker room at Virginia Mason Athletic Center after practice on Thursday. “But at the same time, I don’t feel like I’m boxed in. I played outside in college. My first touchdown was as an outside receiver.

“People sometimes get this idea because you’re good at one thing you’re not good at another. I’ve always been good as an outside receiver. I just happened to also be good as a slot.”

So he’s a receiver, not just a slot receiver. “Exactly,” Baldwin said.

And that’s not the only time Baldwin has expressed his desire to be even more involved in the offense, at more positions.

“Doug wants to be in there. He’s always talking to me about getting him in there and being able to get him the ball,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “First of all, when you bring his name up I think of his competitiveness, his tenacity. He’s a true competitor. Plays hard every down. He does great things for us in the slot.”

There it is again – that slot receiver label.

By any name, Baldwin is a player – a receiver – that any team could use and every quarterback would like to throw to.

“Doug Baldwin has been unbelievable so far,” Wilson said. “And he’s only going to keep getting better. He’s so intelligent. He’s on a constant quest for knowledge, in terms of watching film with me, in terms of asking me questions.

“He’s done a great job, and he’s come up huge in some big games obviously.”  

Offered Luck, “I remember Doug’s last year at Stanford, really developing a good football rapport with him. I always admired his work ethic, and obviously he’s got a lot of physical traits that go well with being an NFL player. But I always admired his work ethic and sort of football smarts. But I remember feeling really comfortable with Doug in his last year of throwing balls up there and just saying, ‘Hey Doug, go make a play.’ And he had a phenomenal senior year.”

Baldwin has continued to make those throw-it-up-and-make-play catches.

There was the one-handed grab in the front corner of the end zone against tight coverage on a nicely thrown pass from Tarvaris Jackson for a 35-yard touchdown in the Week 3 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars at CenturyLink Field – Baldwin’s only catch of the game. But there might not have been a better example than Baldwin taking the back-shoulder throw from Wilson last week and somehow getting each foot inbounds along the Seahawks’ sideline.

“I don’t think I’ve seen one,” Wilson said when asked if anyone has ever made a better catch of a pass he’s thrown. “Doug making that catch is as good as it gets, for sure, especially in terms of a situation. We’re on the 5-yard line and it’s third-and-7. So just for him to make that big-time catch, it’s something spectacular.”

Baldwin? He’s not so sure it’s the best catch he’s ever made.

“I don’t know. I don’t really think it was really that difficult,” he said after a long pause. “The footwork was good, but we practice that all the time.

“When I think about a catch, it’s more like a finger-tip catch or a one-handed catch. Those are more of the impressive catches to me. The footwork on that catch, I guess I don’t appreciate it as much as some people do.”

But more and more people are starting to appreciate just how much Doug Baldwin means to the Seahawks.