The Doug Baldwin who is preparing for his sixth season with the Seattle Seahawks is a different version of the man who arrived in Seattle as an undrafted free agent in 2011, then went on to not just win a roster spot, but to also eventually become the franchise's top receiver.
Baldwin has had an eventful past year, both on and off the field—he led the NFL with 14 touchdown receptions in 2015, was named one of the NFL's top 100 players by the NFL Network, and he recently got engaged—but what stands out to him when it comes to maturation isn't any personal accomplishments as much is it is the way he plans to help his young teammates evolve the same way former veteran Seahawks helped Baldwin years ago.
"Before I became a leader, I thought success was all about building myself up, but then once I became a leader, I realized that success is about building others up," Baldwin said. "That's where I'm at right now. I'm focused on helping the other guys as much as I can, giving them the tools they need to be successful, just like Sidney Rice did for me when I first came in. That's the mentality we have as veterans now is that the new guys coming in—there's a lot of new faces, a lot of new guys—so we want to be able to pass on that experience and wisdom we have growing up in this program to help us ultimately win more games and hopefully more championships."
Baldwin brought up an example of how he and Jermaine Kearse, Seattle's other veteran receiver, might handle poor play from their position group in a different manner than they would have in past years.
"If the receivers aren't doing too well, he says, 'Hey do you want to bring it up and say something to the receivers right now?'" Baldwin said. "I say, 'No let's not call the timeout, let's let us play through it.' And that's something that I wouldn't have done before. I would have brought us together and yelled at everybody. That's something we've been talking about off the field, is how do we handle the adversity we're going to face on the field? It's just having those relationships, spending more time off the field, going to get wings at Sidney's Wingstop and just spending time with each other off the field so we get a feel for each other's personalities and how we handle adversity when we're on the field."
And when it comes to helping the young players, Baldwin is very excited about what he sees on Seattle's roster. Whether it's more established players like Tyler Lockett, who went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, or young players fighting for roster spots, Baldwin sees a lot of growth in his position group, as well as a responsibility to help facilitate that growth.
For to Lockett, who came into the league more polished as a receiver than Baldwin did, according to Baldwin, the next step this season is working on his release off the line of scrimmage.
"One of the things we talked about in the offseason is working on his releases," Baldwin said. "He's so quick and so fast, there's no reason for guys to be able to put their hands on him at the line of scrimmage. We've been working on that, and he's taking it to heart. He's done an excellent job of taking his craft to the next level. I'm really excited to see guys on other teams line up against him to see what he has in store for them."
Baldwin also likes what he has seen from other receivers, ranging from Paul Richardson, who is back and healthy after missing most of last season with knee and hamstring injuries, to other players with limited experience who are looking to break out in 2016.
"Doug McNeil, Kevin Smith and Kasen Williams, all three of those guys have been performing at a really high level for us in OTAs," Baldwin said. "I'm extremely excited for their progress and for what they'll be able to do for us this season"
A more mature Doug Baldwin does not, however, mean a less intense Doug Baldwin. There may be fewer critics of his play to fuel Baldwin's passionate side, but he knows he can find all the motivation he needs internally from a much purer place than the words of an analyst who dismisses his abilities.
"Not at all," Baldwin said when asked if he was at risk of losing his edge. "When I look back on it and I try to figure out what truly motivates me, it's my love for the game. That's what it comes down to. I've been playing this game since I was 6 years old. I've never known a summer off not playing football. Even at times when it gets grueling, when you get out here on this field and smell the grass and feel the air, there's nothing like it. There's no other experience I want to experience in life. I'm just thankful and blessed for the opportunity I get to come out here every day, so I'm not going to take that for granted. That edge will never go away until they force me to hang up my cleats."
Photos from the ninth and final set of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) that the Seahawks held at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Thursday, June 9.