Doug Baldwin admits he's heading into the 2018 season at something less than 100 percent. Then again, the Seahawks receiver notes, "I haven't felt 100 percent since I was born."
However healthy Baldwin is—for what it's worth, he put himself at "80, 85 percent" with just under two weeks left before Seattle's regular-season opener—the Pro-Bowl receiver was back on the practice field Monday and Tuesday, marking his first on-field work with his teammates since the first week of training camp.
And for a player who has missed only two games in his career, both of those coming in 2012, and who rarely sits out practice, missing almost a month of work was a challenge, even if it was necessary to help him be healthy for the regular season.
"It's nice to be back, feeling myself running again," Baldwin said. "I've been playing this game since I was 6 years old; I don't know what it's like to not have football in my life. So to be out this long, it was hard. It was hard emotionally, so I'm just glad to be back out there."
While Baldwin will practice this week and next, he isn't expected to take part in Thursday's preseason finale, though Seahawks coach Pete Carroll made it clear that Baldwin is going to play in the regular-season opener at Denver.
"He's back in action," Carroll said Monday after Baldwin's first practice back. "It's really good to see him back out there running around and feeling great. He's had a really good ramping up to get to this point. He'll work the rest of the week with us, he won't play in the game, but he'll be ready to go next week."
Baldwin said he first noticed an issue with his knee during organized team activities during the spring, but he was still able to take part in most of Seattle's offseason workout program, as well as the start of training camp. But early in camp, he and team doctors decided he needed to take some time off to deal with his sore knee.
"The first two days of camp I realized it wasn't where we wanted it to be in order for me to sustain the level of play, being able to express myself athletically the way I wanted to, so it was time to do something more serious," he said.
And while Baldwin obviously would have preferred to be available throughout camp and the preseason, he isn't overly worried about being regular-season ready, not heading into his eighth season, all but one of which has been with Russell Wilson at quarterback.
"Obviously I would have like to have had more game reps and more practice just because I'm a rep guy, especially coming out with a new offense," he said. "I'd like to get the physical reps, especially with the quarterback trying to get that chemistry and build that rapport. But for the most part, I've been playing football since I was little, so it's not really much different, and I've been in the league now going on eight years, so hopefully at this point it's like riding a bike. It shouldn't be too big a deal."
While watching practice over the past few weeks, Baldwin has been impressed by what he has seen from the rest of his position group, including some young players who have taken advantage of the extra reps his absence created.
"Extremely talented," Baldwin said. "You got a plethora of athletic types. You got guys who are big and fast, like David Moore, who can pretty much do anything on the football field and is extremely gifted at maneuvering his body. Marcus Johnson, who's incredibly fast. Cyril Grayson, same thing, but just has the shiftiness to go inside to the slot. Keenan Reynolds, who has shown everything, his ability to be an every type receiver, especially showing his ability in the slot and cerebral-ness. The list goes on and on. Obviously, Brandon Marshall, doing really well. Tyler (Lockett), obviously doing really well, Malik (Turner) doing really well. So, we got guys across the board who can do everything that the offense requires and asks them to do. So, I think we're in a really good spot. It's going to be tough on the coaches to narrow it down."
Baldwin noted that his absence "gives them opportunities to demonstrate themselves as athletes and as players. It gets them extra reps so that when they come to this game, especially because they're going to have so much time to play, for them to actually go out there and feel comfortable and play fast. Unfortunately, sometimes that happens. It happened for me my rookie year, so it was good for me to have that opportunity and for these young guys as well. Not only just to kind of fill out their résumé to make this team, but also to put tape on the film in case they have to go somewhere else."
Having Baldwin back on the practice field is unambiguously good news for the Seahawks offense with the regular season approaching, but as receivers coach Nate Carroll noted last week, there was a silver lining in the team's top receiver missing some time.
"For the other guys, yeah, this is a big opportunity, because we give Doug the best routes for the most part, but now we're getting to see what the other guys can do," Nate Carroll said. "If you don't ever give them the chance, you'll never know, so this has been great to see these young guys getting that opportunity."