JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Doug Baldwin was another of those prospects who proved to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll that even the most thorough scouting and exhaustive player evaluations suffer from a major shortcoming.
Nobody can see inside the player.
“Sometimes it’s hard to measure the competitiveness and the heart of a guy,” Carroll said when asked how Baldwin, one of the Seahawks’ big playmakers this season, could go undrafted out of Stanford.
“Doug Baldwin is an extraordinary competitor,” Carroll said. “He’s as tough as you could ever want a kid to be.”
There are a lot of try-hard free agents at training camp every year, but Baldwin has shown gifts well beyond his gumption and competitive audacity.
Although scouts considered him unremarkable in size and somewhat less than sizzling over 40 yards, Baldwin was the Seahawks leading receiver (51 catches) as a rookie.
After an injury-marred 2012, he had 50 catches for five touchdowns this season. It was the timeliness and degree-of-difficulty of some of them that was remarkable. Several of his sideline catches were so unlikely that opponents tried to have them reversed via replay.
In the playoffs alone, Baldwin has produced two key catches. Against New Orleans, his third-down grab sealed the Seahawks’ win. In the NFC Championship Game, he made a 52-yarder grab against San Francisco when he slipped behind two defenders as quarterback Russell Wilson scrambled to buy time.
And in that game, he added a 69-yard kickoff return to his 106 receiving yards.
Afterward, Baldwin wasn’t into celebrating the feat, only preparing for Sunday’s Super Bowl XVLIII against the Denver Broncos.
Carroll calls his attitude a chip on his shoulder, but, from a geological sense, that’s a short-sell.
“I usually call it a boulder, not so much a chip … it’s a little bigger than that,” Baldwin said. “It’s everything that I’ve been through throughout my entire life. All the negatives, all the positives, anything that’s attributed to my ability to be here … kind of adds to that boulder … just gives me more strength to prove myself right.”
Carrying around the boulder can be a burden. And it means that Baldwin doesn’t do a great deal of smiling when working on his game.
That man-at-work persona has led some of his teammates to label him “Angry Doug Baldwin.”
Is he really so angry? “It’s just more my trying to gain that mental edge, and motivation for myself.”
Carroll saw that drive in Baldwin at Stanford. “We had known him in college and played against him and appreciated his work.” And he could tell that Baldwin had that relentless combativeness he loves in players.
“He proves it every time he goes on the practice field or on the game field,” Carroll said. “He’s a fantastic performer and a come-through guy for us.”
Being serious and all-business doesn’t mean he’s hostile, so Baldwin is actually not so much angry as he is so very intense.
That makes him a very good interview, often frank and outspoken.
Lately, he’s spent a lot of energy defending the honor of the Seahawks receiving corps, which has faced spotty reviews since the injuries of high-priced and the more well-known Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice.
“I think we are probably one of the most underrated receiving corps in the NFL,” Baldwin said. “If you look at our stats, we’re ranked at the bottom in pass attempts … so we’re not going to have big, gaudy numbers. When we have our opportunities to make plays in the passing game, we do it. You can’t name a receiver who’s forced more broken tackles than Golden Tate. You can’t name a receiver that has a better touchdown break than Jermaine Kearse.”
With Harvin practicing and apparently healthy for the game, Baldwin’s role might be reduced. If he’s bothered by the prospect, it hasn’t caused his comments or expression to change.
“It’s just whatever opportunities they give me,” he said. “I’m probably not going to be returning kicks this week. My role in the offense is going to be what it’s going to be. We never know who’s going to get the targets through the week. … I’m just trying to focus on my opportunities as they come at me and take advantage of them.”
He’s already made a nice career of doing just that.