To say this has been a challenging couple of months for Doug Baldwin would be an understatement. Baldwin, who is in his eighth season with the Seahawks, missed two games during his second season, and after that he appeared in 100 consecutive games, postseason included, heading into this season.
But because of two different knee injuries, Baldwin has barely been on a football field since the first weekend of training camp. The first knee injury kept Baldwin out of most of training camp and all four preseason games, but he still made it back to start the season opener, only to sustain an MCL sprain in the other knee early in that game when a Broncos defensive linemen fell into Baldwin's leg while he was blocking on a running play.
"I would like to think that my growth over the years has allowed me to dive into more of my identity as a human being more than just a football player," the Pro-Bowl receiver said. "But at the end of the day, I've been playing this sport for 23 years. A lot of my value that has been created over the course of those years as a human being has been wrapped up in football. Although I'm still working towards getting away from that unhealthy connection, it's still there. Not being able to play and demonstrate my athleticism as a football player does come with its emotional issues."
After sitting out the past two games, Baldwin returned to practice on Wednesday and is eyeing a return to game action when the Seahawks play at Arizona Sunday.
"I'm chomping at the bit," Baldwin said, prior to Thursday's practice, in which he was a limited participant for a second straight day. "I'm ready to go. This is what I do, so I'm excited about getting back out there… I've never sat out this long. I haven't missed games since my second year in the NFL. It's been a very long time since I had to overcome the injury obstacle. Of course, I've dealt with injuries throughout the course of those games that I've played, but nothing to the significance of where I had to miss time."
Baldwin calls the time he has been out frustrating, but he has also tried to make the most of it by supporting his fellow receivers on gameday.
"It's very frustrating," Baldwin said. "The thing that I've been able to really focus on as I'm off the field is really focusing on my empathetic nature with the other players, especially the other receivers. Just talking through the game-plan with them, talking through the situations with them, talking through what's happening play-by-play with them when they come off of the field. A lot of my energy and resources are spent on being empathetic for them, so I can give them something back to help them throughout the course of the game. Sometimes it shows itself in a number of ways."
And yes, Baldwin's "energy and resources" were also spent on a rather passionate conversation with co-director of player personnel Trent Kirchner during Sunday's win over the Cowboys, an exchange that made the TV broadcast. Baldwin called it "an exertion of energy" for which Kirchner just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the receiver said he apologized shortly thereafter, adding, "that's my guy though."
But for the vast majority of the time, Baldwin has been a very positive influence during his time on the sideline, and his involvement is a big reason why Baldwin's teammates know he'll be ready to make a big impact whenever he's back on the field.
"The biggest thing about Doug is that you would think he's playing every week the way that he goes about his business, the way he still focuses on other teams' tendencies, what it is that they do," receiver Tyler Lockett said. "He's still sitting up at the front of class. He's still doing whatever he needs to do as if he were playing. So I know when the time does come for him to play, he's going to be prepared to be able to go out there and do the same thing he has been doing."
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer noted Baldwin is "always standing there by me," during games.
"I think he just wants me to know that he's there," Schottenheimer continued. "He has looked pretty good. Get through tomorrow's preparation and just kind of see how everything looks, but I know he wants to play. I know he's itching, but we'll go through the week and the process and we'll come up with a good plan."
Baldwin feels like his time to return to game action is now, but he also knows that's ultimately a decision that will be made not just by him, but by coaches and the athletic training staff.
"I'm ready to go," he said. "That's going to be their call—there's a lot of things that go into it. Obviously, the precautionary reasons of making sure that I'm healthy fully so that I can go for the rest of the season and not just this game. I get that, but as a competitor and as somebody who hasn't missed games that often who had an 89-game (regular-season) streak, I feel like I know my body pretty well. I feel like I'm ready to go."
Photos from Thursday's practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center in preparation for Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals.