By Chris Cluff
Doug Baldwin, WR #89
Hometown: Gulf Breeze, Fla.
Experience: 2 Years
Doug Baldwin’s second season in the NFL has largely been as disappointing as his first was pleasantly surprising. But that could be changing.
Last season, Baldwin was the surprise story of the Seahawks – an undrafted rookie who scored on a 55-yard catch in his first game and went on to lead the team with 51 catches for 788 yards despite not starting a game.
This year, he was expected to really help rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and an offense in transition as a dependable slot receiver.
But things did not go as planned.
A hamstring injury hindered his ability to get in sync with Wilson in the preseason, then he broke two teeth in the opener at Arizona and missed the Green Bay game in Week 3 after hurting a shoulder in practice.
He had just four catches in the first four games and was an afterthought behind Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, among others.
But Baldwin steadily has reasserted himself in the offense, making himself available to Wilson as needed, and it paid off Sunday in the 42-13 blowout of the San Francisco 49ers.
Baldwin had his best day of the year, catching two touchdown passes that coach Pete Carroll called “beautiful” and looking like he could be a big player once the postseason begins.
“It was frustrating at the beginning of the season because you have high expectations for yourself,” Baldwin told The News Tribune. “But you just have to focus on the things you can control. I was able to stay focused.”
With Sidney Rice not 100 percent because of knee and foot problems, Baldwin was targeted six times — the most since the opener. He matched his season high with four catches, which he also had at Chicago on Dec. 2.
And they were some doozies, too.
On Seattle’s second touchdown drive, Wilson hit Baldwin deep down the middle of the field for a 43-yard gain. The ball actually caromed off Baldwin’s upper body, but he managed to haul it in as he hit the ground.
“I was a little worried,” he said. “But after you hit the ground, and you know that you caught it, all that worry goes away. I had it the whole way.”
That catch set up Wilson’s touchdown pass to Marshawn Lynch a few plays later.
In the third quarter, Baldwin made a leaping 4-yard touchdown catch on third-and-goal, tapping his right toe in bounds before falling out.
His second TD catch, a 6-yarder in the fourth quarter, was just as acrobatic. It was the kind of performance he had put on throughout his rookie season. And Baldwin said he was happy it came against Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers coach who did not think enough of Baldwin after days at Stanford to draft him.
Although Baldwin has been the odd man out for much of the season, he has been targeted 18 times in the last four games and seems set to play a big role the rest of the way.
“That’s the way our offense is built,” Baldwin said. “We keep the defense off balance. They never know who’s going to get the ball, who’s going to go off.”
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.