11 Days to Camp: Make or Break Mr. Baldwin

It was September of 2004 and the Chiefs Nation was on pins and needles with star running back, Priest Holmes, listed as questionable for the upcoming game against the Houston Texans. At that point in his career, Holmes had been the key cog of the Chiefs' offense and the best rusher in the NFL.

The Chiefs had drafted the talented running back Larry Johnson the previous year but the grudge holding Dick Vermeil (who never wanted to draft Johnson---that was a Carl Peterson move) buried the disgruntled Johnson on the depth chart.

The now infamous words of Vermeil are still one of the preferred radio drops on the local airwaves.

"It's time to take your diapers off", Vermeil said about Johnson who was growing increasingly frustrated at his lack of playing time behind the all-star Holmes and backup Derrick Blaylock, "it's time to go to work".

Holmes went on to start that game against Houston and Johnson wouldn't see the playing field till much later in the season. And it wasn't until year three for Johnson, where he started living up to his first round status.

In his third season with the Chiefs, Johnson averaged 5.2 yards per carry and amassed over 1700 yards rushing while adding 20 touchdowns. Johnson went from being the Gerber Baby to being one of the most feared running backs in the NFL and one of the most productive in Chiefs history.

Prior to his breakout season, the fans in Kansas City were rapidly turning on Johnson, saying he was just another high-round Carl Peterson bust. Fast-forward about a decade and the Chiefs have a similar situation brewing with wide receiver, Jon Baldwin.

Baldwin is an interesting layover player from the, Scott Pioli, regime, The former GM drafted the Pittsburgh Panther standout with the understanding that then, head coach Todd Haley, could turn him into the KC version of Calvin Johnson or Terrell Owens.

In fact, that wasn't even a casual stretch for most who saw Baldwin on the practice field. I remember the first time I saw Baldwin in person was at a local high school during the NFL lockout practice led by former Chiefs Quarterback, Matt Cassel.- each of us in the media were awed by the freakish athletic build of Baldwin.

Tall, lean, build like a brick house and could move his massive body in a way that looks smooth and powerful at the same time. The ceiling for the young player out of Pittsburg looked to be destine for stardom. Unfortunately, Baldwin to this point has been nothing short of one of the bigger busts in Chiefs history - and that's saying something.

In his first two seasons, Baldwin amassed a paltry 41 receptions with 579 yards receiving and just a pair of touchdowns.

It was thought by many that Baldwin might be released this past winter when new Head Coach, Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey, were brought in to clean up the mess left behind by Pioli. But those of us that were watching the waiver wire knew Baldwin would have to play a role for the Chiefs in the upcoming season.

And that role initially appears to be as a slot-type receiver in Reid's hybrid West Coast Offense.

Unlike we have seen in KC the past few years where the offense was predicated on the run setting up the passing game, it will be the polar opposite under Reid's watch.

The Chiefs have a proven commodity in running back, Jamaal Charles, but virtually no passing weapons outside veteran, Dwayne Bowe. If Reid's offense is to be successful off the bat, they must find another explosive weapon outside Bowe.

Although the Chiefs signed former Colt, Donnie Avery, and have a kick-returning specialist, Dexter McCluster, neither of these players have shown the potential to be consistent game breakers. If this team is going to see success passing the ball, they will need a player like Baldwin to pick up the slack.

Typically you see smaller, shifty players in the slot position due to their ability to get off defenders and their relatively low price tag. You don't see players with Baldwin's size and strength because it's too much of an investment for what most believe to be a role position.

But due to circumstances, the Chiefs have a 6' 4" slot receiver that up to this point in his career has struggled running good routes and getting separation from defensive backs. And that's a mystery.

The initial reports thus far from mini camps and off season workouts however have been extremely positive. Dorsey and wide receivers coach, David Culley, have each been on record stating Baldwin is starting to "get it" and is finally understating how to use his skills and body to his advantage - not just relying on his god given ability.

But this is not the first time we have heard of Baldwin being the star of the practice field. Throughout training camp last summer, Baldwin was the talk of St. Joe and nearly everyone believed 2012 would be his break out year.

That never happened.

Much like the previous year, Baldwin flopped with the rest of the offense. But when looking at what Baldwin was working with its easy to make excuses for the 3rd year wide out.

In two years with the Chiefs, KC's offense has been ranked 32nd (2012) and 25th (2011) while averaging 169 and 192 yards per game respectively. Though Baldwin's dropped passes and inability to created separation from receivers played a role in these poor passing seasons, Baldwin wasn't exactly being thrown to by Joe Montana or Trent Green.

In his tenure to date, Baldwin caught the ball from four different QB's (Brady Quinn, Tyler Palko, Kyle Orton, and Matt Cassel). So it's no surprise that the talented Baldwin wasn't living up to expectations. In 2011, I was at the Arrowhead practice facility when Jon Baldwin was announced as the Chiefs first round and numerous members of the media questioned Baldwin's work ethic and maturity.

So before ever playing an NFL snap, Baldwin got into a locker room fight with then head coach, Todd Haley and running back, Thomas Jones, seemed to have supported those theories.

However, I'm starting to hear new stories about Baldwin.

I'm hearing that in his third off season Baldwin has turned over a new leaf. That Baldwin appears to have matured and started understanding what it takes to be an NFL receiver. That Baldwin is starting to understand how he can use his talents against defenders as opposed to just counting on winning battles with sheer athleticism.

This is not an unprecedented feat either - a wide receiver having the lights come on in his third year.

Although many would argue the third year theory on wide receivers, there is plenty of evidence to debunk the theory, there are plenty more examples of third year receivers that have set he league on fire.

There have been numerous NFL receivers including Jerry Rice and Chris Carter who are on record as saying it took them a trio of NFL season's to start realizing what it takes to play the position at an all-pro level. Some notable receivers have turned it on in year three. They include Roddy White, Reggie Wayne, Percy Harvin, Terrell Owens, and Keyshawn Johnson.

Those guys have Hall of Fame abilities. And it seems a far stretch for Baldwin at this point to join that class. But the precedent for Baldwin to turn around his NFL career and live up to his first round bidding is not unreasonable.

The Chiefs have their #1 receiver in Bowe and a star back in Charles so they don't need Baldwin to take the league by storm; they just need him to steadily contribute. If new quarterback, Alex Smith, can develop the timing with Baldwin to allow him to catch the ball in stride over the middle of the field - it's potentially scary to see what kind of plays he can make for this offense.

Baldwin has the potential to be an explosive playmaker and a red zone powerhouse if he truly has honed his skills and ability.

Much like Larry Johnson in year three, regardless of how you feel about his first two seasons, the Chiefs need Baldwin to step up now.

With Baldwin, this Chiefs offense has the potential to be one of the most balanced attacks in the AFC, without him, they are at a disadvantage.

So it's time to take the Huggies off big man and step into the potential that we have all seen on the practice field for two years.

Because at the end of the day, this Kansas City offense needs Mr. Baldwin to step up his game.

This article appears courtesy of the 2013 Season Preview Edition of Warpaint Illustrated the Magazine.


WARPAINT ILLUSTRATED MESSAGE BOARDS:
Will Baldwin make KC's 2013 roster?


For all the news, notes and quotes on the Chiefs, visit WarpaintIllustrated.com


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WARPAINT ILLUSTRATED MESSAGE BOARDS:
Will Baldwin make KC's 2013 roster?
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