The cliché was borne from a coach or an athlete who couldn’t fully explain why some players train so ferociously or play so hard in games. They push themselves beyond a point where others wilt. What inspires some to be so competitive that it seems foreign to 99 percent of the world?
“He plays with a chip on his shoulder.”
The phrase is a mainstay in the vocabulary of sports followers, and its epitome is Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin.
A Stanford graduate with a degree in business and engineering, Baldwin offered an alternate description that describes many of his teammates, who, at one time or another felt slighted and never forgot it.
“We call it, somebody having a ‘dog’ about them,” Baldwin said in the locker room at the VMAC. “It’s a certain attitude when you approach the game of football, whether you’re in the meeting room, practice field or especially on the game field.”
Ask a teammate or coach. They say Baldwin always plays with an outlook that helps him compensate for being undersized (5-10, 190 pounds). His best scholarship offers coming out of a Pensacola, FL., high school were from Stanford and Louisiana-Lafayette.
He chose Stanford.
From 2007-10, he caught 94 passes, amassed 1,360 receiving yards and served as the Cardinal’s primary punt returner, as coach Jim Harbaugh’s former team rose from a Pac-10 doormat to a national powerhouse.
Baldwin ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but no teams were enticed to use a draft pick on him. The snub forced him to sign with Seattle — home of the overlooked and agitated — as a free agent.
“I think being undrafted added to the motivation,” Baldwin said. “The team we’re about to play: They didn’t think I was good enough to play in this league.”
His rookie season exceeded the best-case scenario predicted by most analysts. Despite going through a training camp shortened by an NFL lockout, Baldwin developed an impressive rapport with starting QB Tarvaris Jackson. Baldwin was foremost a safety valve on third downs but showed he was capable of becoming Seattle’s top target when WR Sidney Rice missed seven games. He finished 2011 with 51 catches, a team-best 788 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
As a rookie, he was at times a go-to wide receiver, when many thought he could never evolve beyond a third-down specialist.
“I think my rookie year, I dispelled that,” Baldwin said.
Seahawks wide receivers coach Kippy Brown agreed.
“Doug’s done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Brown said. “When he’s been our starter he’s done great, when he’s been our slot, he’s done great.”
It wasn’t enough. Baldwin worked so hard during the off-season that his body became prone to injury. He hurt his hamstring and couldn’t play in the preseason, damaged his two front teeth during the season opener against Arizona and sat out the Green Bay game with a shoulder injury.
He played in 14 games in 2012 but was nagged by health setbacks, most annoyingly a high ankle sprain, which can take a month or more from which to recover. Baldwin tried to return in two weeks. His numbers suffered.
The season wasn’t a disaster — “I thought he played pretty good,” Brown said — but Baldwin finished with just 29 receptions, 366 yards and three touchdowns.
“I think once the injuries occurred, I tried so hard to get back. I tried so hard to make plays. I felt like I was trying to catch up,” Baldwin said. “I really didn’t need to do that. I just needed to play football.”
Coach Pete Carroll agreed.
“He wanted to do everything he could possibly think of coming off his first year, and he wasn’t himself,” Carroll said. “It was just because he is a great competitor and wanted to do everything possible, set every record, break everything.”
Which is why Baldwin entered his third training camp eager to put behind him a 2012 he viewed as disappointing. In the past, a motivated Baldwin was productive, but sometimes pushed himself to unhealthy levels beyond the work habits that allowed him to thrive in the NFL.
As when he was pegged as a “third-down receiver,” he dispelled that perception during his latest training camp. In the injury absence of Percy Harvin, Baldwin fits in as the third receiver behind Rice and Golden Tate, and ahead of another undrafted free agent, Jermaine Kearse of Washington, and newcomer veteran Stephen Williams — two more who bear chips similar to Baldwin.
The cliché label on Baldwin?
Probably going to stick.
“I think Doug would have had a chip on his shoulder if we would have taken him in the first round,” Brown said. “It’s just the way he’s made up.”