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 Post subject: SAM Baker getting the job done!!
PostPosted: Sun Dec 23, 2012 2:32 am 
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Sam Baker Revitalized in 2012

Posted Dec 21, 2012

Daniel Cox atlantafalcons.com Twitter

You haven't heard the name of Sam Baker this much and in his case, that's a good thing. Healthy for maybe the first time in his career, Baker has had QB Matt Ryan's back all season.

When Sam Baker was drafted in 2008 in the first round, there were visions of the left tackle from USC serving as the bodyguard for his new teammate from the same round, QB Matt Ryan, for a decade or longer. That's the hope for every left tackle, particularly those taken in the top round.

Baker's career arc through Atlanta hasn't exactly followed the visions from draft day. He played well as a rookie, but was limited to only eight games. In 2009 he started 14 games and again played well. The last two seasons Baker's battled through injuries and while his play wasn't where it should be, Baker continued to do what he could to get onto the field. Head coach Mike Smith said earlier this week he's been impressed with Baker's resiliency in fighting through the injuries in previous seasons, some of which weren't public.

“He’s had a lot of injuries, and he’s fought through them," Smith said. "Some of the injuries were public and some of the injuries weren’t as well known, but he’s a guy that’s shown a lot of resiliency playing his best football this year."

The play of Baker this season is one of the quietest stories around the Falcons. After a few seasons of struggles, the left tackle is playing a very solid brand of football and his best game of the season perhaps came in last week's 34-0 win over the Giants.

According to advanced stats from ProFootballFocus.com, Baker was the highest-graded offensive lineman against the Giants and a pass rush Smith has described as one of the best in the league. In 68 offensive snaps, Baker gave up only one QB hurry, against the likes ofJason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora. Baker has graded positively (using PFF's analysis) in three straight games and has only graded worse than -1.0 twice.

This year is a step up from years past for Baker. Last season in only nine games, he recorded a grade of -1.0 or worse four times. In 2010 he recorded eight games from the 16-game regular season where he graded at -1.0 or worse.

This season Baker has been a revelation, showing the trust placed on him by the coaching staff and franchise was worth it. Now healthy, he's playing like the first-round tackle he was drafted to be.

"He’s been as healthy as he’s ever been," Smith said. "He spent a whole lot of time in the offseason working on getting his body feeling right. He had some things that he had to really work on and he did a really nice job. It’s paid off for him. He’s protecting our backs very well.”

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 Post subject: Re: SAM Baker getting the job done!!
PostPosted: Sun Dec 23, 2012 2:46 am 
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Baker is still an average starting NFL tackle, but that's OK. So was Matt Light, which I think is the type of player that the Falcons really have only wanted him to become. That's an improvement, and while the Falcons would be smart to not completely invest in Baker this off-season (say with a Clabo-level contract), he has played well enough that he deserves another shot with the Falcons in 2013.

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 Post subject: Re: SAM Baker getting the job done!!
PostPosted: Sun Dec 23, 2012 2:58 am 
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I think Baker has been playing a little above average but not enough to argue over. Another year like this year and I'd call it like you did "what the Falcons hoped for. "

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 Post subject: Re: SAM Baker getting the job done!!
PostPosted: Sun Dec 23, 2012 3:12 am 
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I think his pass protection has been above average to good for the most part this year. I think his run blocking has been below average to average for the most part, although there has been improvement there. But he's still an average run blocker on his best days. I think it all balances out to being fairly average.

I think the issue with Baker is that similar to players like Light and Jeff Backus, fellow short-armed LTs, he's probably maxed out his ability. Now if he can maintain his current level of play for another 2-4 years, then there are going to be minimal complaints. But really, the only way is down, not really up IMO.

The last thing I want to see the Falcons do is pull another Blalock, where they overpay an expendable player, mistaking him to be an asset because he happened to have his best season in a contract year, ignoring the fact that for the previous 3 or so seasons the guy was extremely inconsistent and one of the weaker links of the offensive front more times than not.

Baker should get a deal on par with what the Rams paid for Harvey Dahl. If he wants a penny more than the Falcons need to be prepared to move on.

You don't want to get "Gaither-ed."

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