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The Sam Baker Experiment

June 27th, 2008

A large degree of Falcon fans were very skeptical of Sam Baker’s ability to be an effective left tackle on the NFL level when the team traded up to get him in the first round. And you can count me as one of them.

Look, I think Baker is a solid player. He was very productive at USC, and I think in general he’s a very good blocker and offensive linemen. But that doesn’t mean he can stick at left tackle, which takes a unique player to be effective there.

It seems likely that Sam Baker will get the chance to start for this team this year at left tackle. It seems the coaching staff is doing everything in their power right now to make that possibility a certainty. So I wonder, if/when Baker takes over the starting job, how long a leash should he be given?

I’m not outright predicting that Baker will fail, I’m just asking if he does, when do you pull the plug? How much time is too much (or too little) time before you move on and go in a different direction?

From my perspective it’s one year for Baker. Look I’m not saying completely give up on him after one season. But unless Baker flashes real potential as a starter during his rookie season, I think the Falcons need to start planning on making a move. No, Baker doesn’t need to be the next incarnation of Tony Boselli or even Joe Thomas right away, but if he’s going to struggle and give up a bunch of sacks week after week, then I say pull the plug on him at left tackle, and try him at a new position.

Personally, I’m more confident of Baker’s ability to play inside than outside, due to his short arms. Yeah, I know that can be a bit overblown. There are plenty of successful short-armed left tackles in the league. But it’s not the measure of his arms per se, it’s the fact that he plays short-armed. Other guys with short arms, it’s not so obvious when you watch them play, and they make up for it with superior technique and footwork. Which, in Baker’s case I think he can (and hopefully will) be able to do. His best asset is his technique and footwork and hopefully that continues to be the case.

But I think Baker could be a very effective guard, or perhaps even a Pro Bowl center. He’s not particularly strong so he doesn’t really have the strength to match up with big defensive tackles inside, but at center, his lack of strength and inability to push the pile won’t be an issue.

All I’m saying is that if Baker struggles at left tackle this year, much in the same way that Justin Blalock did at left guard last year, then I think in 2009 he needs to be moved inside. I don’t want to see this team’s and Baker’s time wasted just so that the powers that be in Atlanta can justify their selection of Baker if from the start it’s apparent that it’s not working. It’s not often that the Oakland Raiders are seen as a team worth emulating, but in this case we should learn from their experience with Robert Gallery.

Hey and look on the bright side, even if Baker struggles mightily this season, perhaps he’ll wind up being the guy that ends Todd McClure’s “reign of terror” at center. ;)

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