Atlanta Falcons: Sam Baker looking to rebound in 2012

 060712falcons CC17(Falcons left tackle Sam Baker sat down with D. Orlando Ledbetter last week to discuss his play last season and how he plans to rebound in 2012, the final year of his contracct. Here’s the story that ran in Monday’s print editions.)

By D. Orlando Ledbetter

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons left tackle Sam Baker may have been the player most affected by the loss of the mean and downright nasty Harvey Dahl.

While Baker battled through injuries last season, he also lost that rugged spirit and guile that Dahl, a guard who went to St. Louis in free agency, infused into the offensive line as they rambled to the NFC South title in 2010.

Late last season, when his wife, Antoinette, gave birth to their first son, Gunnar Harvey Baker, the big left tackle had some of his soul restored.

“He was born Christmas Day; he’s 5½ months,” said Baker, who gave Gunnar his middle name after Dahl.

Baker’s career is at a crossroads as he hopes to return to the glory days of 2010 when the Falcons were 13-3 and he started every game at left tackle.

“It was cool to have that unit, with Harvey and the guys,” Baker said. “We were really close friends. We kind of helped each other when one guy wasn’t feeling too great. We were able to support each other back them.”

Baker started the first six games last season but struggled mightily. He had in-season back surgery and was inactive for the next three games.

Upon his return, Will Svitek remained the starter, and Baker shifted to a backup role. He gave up five sacks last season, according to Stats Inc. But the lowest point of the season came against Carolina on Dec. 11.

As a reserve, Baker had to play some guard. He was playing right guard when Carolina defensive lineman Antwan Applewhite beat Baker on a powerful inside move for a sack and a safety. (Video: Click here)

Baker contends that he has put last season in his rearview mirror.

“Man, it was just tough,” Baker said. “Just to come out after the lockout and not knowing where your body was at, and then just kind of getting thrown into it. I had a couple of terrible games early on, and that really didn’t help either. Then, having some back issues again, it was really, mentally, it was just a roller coaster.”

Despite his shaky play last season, the Falcons have stood steadfastly behind Baker, who has returned to his status as the No. 1 left tackle this offseason after having an additional surgery.

When he was drafted in the first round of the 2008 draft, the Falcons envisioned a left tackle who would protect quarterback Matt Ryan’s blind side for the next decade.

The jury is still out on Baker, whom the Falcons believe had strong seasons in 2009 (six sacks allowed) and 2010 (11.5 sacks allowed). He is in the last year of his five-year, $13.5 million contract. Baker must return to form to secure his long-term future with the team or be ready to enter free agency.

“This is an important year for Sam, as we all know,” Falcons general manager Thom-as Dimitroff said. “I have confidence that Sam is going to come back and be a good left tackle for us.”

The team attributes most of Baker’s woes to his injuries.

“Sam is coming back in very good shape,” Dimitroff said. “He physically looks good. He’s been working hard in the offseason. His focus is to come back and win that left-tackle job and continue to help us win games as he has many times over the last four seasons.”

With Dahl playing for the Rams, Baker leaned on teammates Todd McClure, Justin Blalock and Tyson Clabo to help him through last season.

“There are a lot of guys in that locker room that really care about you and love football,” Baker said. “They were able to help me.”

Svitek, who started 10 games and was solid, appears to be the backup plan. The Falcons drafted tackle Lamar Holmes in the third round, but rarely do players drafted so late come into the NFL and start at left tackle. Also, Holmes has a broken toe and will not practice until the start of training camp.

So, the left-tackle spot appears to be Baker’s to win. The Falcons clearly are counting on him bouncing back.

“Unfortunately, he has been challenged with some of the injury situations,” Dimitroff said. “But Sam is a resilient guy, as per his injuries. There are certain times when you are faced with injury, and we had to play someone else in that spot.”

Despite the contract situation, Baker said he doesn’t feel any added pressure.

“There is always that,” Baker said. “They are always looking to replace somebody. There is always competition. It’s the NFL, and everybody is looking for a job.”

Baker acknowledged battling through some confidence issues last season. The Falcons hope that a new approach from offensive line coach Pat Hill will help restore Baker’s ferociousness.

Hill, who spent the past 15 years as the head coach at Fresno State, has known Baker since his high school days.

“He has great athletic ability,” Hill said. “I knew Sam coming out of high school and out of [USC]. From playing against him and watching him, I know the athletic ability is there. I’m excited about working with him.”

Falcons coach Mike Smith wants to see the old Baker, too.

“Playing left tackle in this league is not an easy job,” Smith said.

“You are protecting the backside of the quarterback, and for the majority of the time they are facing the top pass rushers. Most right defensive ends are the guys that have the skill-set to rush the passer.”

–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog

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73 comments Add your comment

FalconsElite

June 13th, 2012
8:43 am

Gumbo

June 13th, 2012
8:59 am

OK, OK, Let’s give it a try. But if he plays like last year, he’s GOT TO GO!

Marcus

June 13th, 2012
9:02 am

Hmmmm…. Pat Hill will have to work wonders. Matty Ice’s life depends on it.

Headmofo

June 13th, 2012
9:05 am

We simply have to have better play out of our left tackle and right guard. From what I understand if Dirk plans to air it out more Matt has to have more time to drop back and survey the field. If he has the instant pressure that I witnessed last year we will be in for a long season. Keep in mind, if Matt Ryan gets hurt………….. Yes, that’s right imagine Chris Redman trying to throw the ball 40 yards down field to Julio or Roddy. Do you think we have a serviceable back up? The entire line will need to improve in order for this new system to be effective.

MaxxFalcon

June 13th, 2012
9:19 am

Just don’t know about some of these excuses for his play last year. The lockout? Maybe that’s an excuse for a rookie, but every other vet in the league had to deal with the lockut, and plenty of them played better than him. Not having Harvey Dahl? Well, Harvey Dahl is not on the team this year either. Sam Baker got tossed around like a rag-doll by Julius Peppers, ROOKIE Adrian Claiborne and Trent Cole when he WAS healthy last year, hence the “couple of terrible games early on” referenced here. Plus, he says, the offensive line “were able to support each other back then”, implying that they are not able to support each other now? I think this is all bogus. The guy has never been healthy, and even when he was healthy last year, he was a liability to our offense. This is the NFL, you need O-lineman that don’t go into a hole when one of their teammates leaves in Free Agency. You need guys that instill their own nastiness into themselves. All these excuses are just excuses and they are invalid to me. The team says he wasn’t healthy, what makes them think he’ll stay healthy this year? This is the most worrisome issue with the Falcons this year. If our O-line plays like it did last year, it will be another long and frustrating season, and there will be some well-deserved heat on our coaches and GM for not making any moves to upgrade or insure ourselves at LT in case Baker falters or gets hurt, which is very likely to happen. If our O-line flourishes, we should be one of the top teams in the league. Hard to be optimistic after what we saw last year from this same group, but there’s always a chance…

slug27marathons

June 13th, 2012
9:19 am

Enuff talk…now go do it Baker.

SeenThisB4

June 13th, 2012
9:36 am

Sam Baker eh? Get that cart ready falcan’ts, you’re going to need it this year!

Brasco

June 13th, 2012
9:46 am

Baker has got to go. I would like to see how many penalties he has cost us per year. Everytime a flag is thrown on offense, I know it’s another holding call on Sam Baker. If we didn’t have such short passing plays in the previous seasons, the sack count on Baker would be a lot higher.

Larry

June 13th, 2012
9:49 am

“It was cool to have that unit, with Harvey and the guys,” Baker said. “We were really close friends. We kind of helped each other when one guy wasn’t feeling too great. We were able to support each other back them.”

“With Dahl playing for the Rams, Baker leaned on teammates Todd McClure, Justin Blalock and Tyson Clabo to help him through last season.”

What a psychologically fragile individual; not what you’d hope and espect from your LT.

Did Mike Kenn depend on hand-holding and nurturing? I dont’t think so!

josephcole

June 13th, 2012
9:53 am

i dont know if we should even give him another chance he was REALLY HORRIBLE last year. he was pretty good his rookie year. But i will say the Whole o-line was at fault last year, not just Sam

SeenThisB4

June 13th, 2012
9:58 am

I love the Falcons!!!

D man

June 13th, 2012
10:02 am

Sam- time to “man-up”. Be a champion everyday at practice and you will get results on the field. I believe in you and know what you are capable of doing. Get it done starting this season. Your injury days are behind you now. Time to shine.

sam

June 13th, 2012
10:14 am

Actions speak louder than words, guys. Smitty and TD may say they back Baker, but they used their first two draft picks on Offensive Linemen. I’m looking forward to the competition for OL spots in training camp.

tonio

June 13th, 2012
10:26 am

I feel like if our o-line can stay healthy then we have a chance to be deadly. i feel a little better about our o-line going into this season tho. Now Sam Baker i really feel like they should give him 5-7 games to prove himself if not then Will Svitek can get the job done why not start him. I expect Lamar Holmes to take a starting position close to next season he is too huge to just have him on the bench, but im pretty nervous about the season I hope everything can really fall in place in Atl.

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Sick & Tired Of Being Sick & TIred

June 13th, 2012
11:04 am

I’m not sure that Sam Baker can play the tackle position at the level needed by the Falcons. Hopefully if he fails to protect Ryan during the early part of the season, he WILL BE REPLACED so that Ryan doesn’t take all of the hits he took last year.

The Falcons can’t have an effective down field passing attack until the offensive line can hold long enough for Ryan to run through the progressions with the receivers.

OPEN YOUR EYES

June 13th, 2012
11:09 am

HE IS GARBAGE!!!!!

Falcon James

June 13th, 2012
11:31 am

I am just not convinced that Baker is our man. He tried to get Ryan killed last year and the year before. I am all for Second chances, but this guy is on his 4th chance. If he give up 1 sack this year, the fan going to boo him out of the stadium.

Brave Hokie

June 13th, 2012
11:35 am

Just another playa in LOSERVILLE.

What-ever.

[...] Falcons LT Sam Baker underwent an “additional” surgery earlier in the offseason on his back. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) [...]

yeahsure

June 13th, 2012
11:59 am

Trying to speaking optimistically, he will be nice to have for depth. Also, he was a 4 year starter at USC… maybe, just MAYBE, Pat Hill can get him back to form.

Its good to hear that he’s coming into camp in shape. I want to see him cut just as much as the next guy, but if he can show 1st round pick stuff, it will be good for the team.

Rags

June 13th, 2012
12:07 pm

Plenty of other opportunities out there for a guy with his proven skill set. Spain is always looking for more matadors.

St Simons - we're on Island time

June 13th, 2012
12:10 pm

I married a psychologist.
well, bfd, st simons, what has that got to do with anything?
well, she is a big falcons fan, and she is reading this over my shoulder.
she is trained to read clues, body language, words, cadence, etc
she hopes he will choose to leave pro football next year, and that will
be the best thing that ever happened to him, for his own happiness.
again, she is not hating, she loves patients, and loves the falcons
she has no idea what a ‘left tackle’ is, or if its on offense or defense
she can read people
i’m an accountant, what the hell do i know
well, i can count up to $18mil

trailboss

June 13th, 2012
12:12 pm

The only comment I have on him… as a player if was hurt I hope he see how he hurt his self and his rep as a hole he let his teammates down. If he don’t play well as we just read then its time for him to redo his contract of get what you can for him in a trade.

Elmer

June 13th, 2012
12:14 pm

Can you say RUT ROH……bet he shouts – Duck or Look Out alot to RB’s & QB

big don

June 13th, 2012
12:44 pm

Sounds like a giant sissy to me with more excuses. I hope he doesn’t forget his binky before a game. Lord knows he’s sure to mess up without his binky. What an absolute PUSSCATORE!

No more eggcuses 4 Perrier Jerry

June 13th, 2012
12:45 pm

Just curius when U gonna rite about that bust Perrier Jerry and why he is so horible after being drafted in the fist round?

Delbert D.

June 13th, 2012
12:47 pm

St Simons – Be sure and let us know when you’ve advanced into the big money category. Top 50 of the Virginia 100 would do it.

North FLA Falcon

June 13th, 2012
12:52 pm

He’s lost some weight. So maybe give him a shot. Maybe Baker will do better with Koetter and HIll’s more fluid offensive line with screens and sweeps, since he clearly cannot just sit there and block huge Dlinemen, that is why he got called for holding so much last year. Right now I’d put Svitek ahead of him.

Really?

June 13th, 2012
12:59 pm

Rebound? seriously? when has Sam acutally done anything except give up the left side blind none stop every year he has been on the corner? His feet are slow and he has no center of balance…

tonio

June 13th, 2012
1:00 pm

Jerry is a bust but injury’s have been a problem for him but we have players like Corey Peters who shined after Jerry got hurt now its vise versa Peters hurt. I feel like this is it for Jerry if he cant step it up they will release him hes been no help to the Falcons since we signed him hopefully that draft class can get it together we haven’t got much out of Dominique Franks and he was a star CB out of Oklahoma we have a good talent and players i blame the coaching just hopefully our new coaches can bring the best out of the falcons and if they can we WILL be deadly.

DawgDad

June 13th, 2012
1:02 pm

I think it’s all about Baker’s health. Healthy, he has shown he can play. But this back think can linger and affect his play even if it doesn’t knock him out completely.

jay

June 13th, 2012
1:04 pm

If these comments don’t get closed I’ll be dissappointed.

Randy

June 13th, 2012
1:06 pm

Hey D-Led, how much did Baker have to pay you to include that video in your article? LOL

Falcon Jim

June 13th, 2012
1:10 pm

Amazing Grace.

coleski

June 13th, 2012
1:36 pm

I never have seen Sam Baker play like ano.1 draft pick. I don’t know that he ever will or can.

Jimmy Crack

June 13th, 2012
1:45 pm

This all very nice, but results will tell the tale of Sam Baker. I thing Pat Hill will spend extra time with Sam to make him better, but he HAS to get better sooner than later.

Matty cannot get happy feet early in the season like he did last year because of bad protection.

LOL at the Braves

June 13th, 2012
1:56 pm

fanATicaL

June 13th, 2012
2:07 pm

All this negative talk.But does anybody see the synergy and transition ? The purpose of bringing in Pat Hill. Who not only familiar with Sam Baker and his father.But also familiar with his training and a very good coach of the fundamentals.As I’ve seen on several video blogs.What a better guy to bring into camp. All within the new offensive Dirk Koetter scheme.How long does it take to fully recover from back surgery? whether physical or mental ?Also if he just doesnt work out with the depth at the position.ie Svitek/Holmes.One a more immediate fix the later a more long term fix.Too many short sighted people.Not seeing the progression since Mike Smith has been coach,the process.Rome wasnot built in a day.This team maybe the closest we have come Coach/Scheme/Fit/Depth/Personel.To be successful to overcome this schedule.Weekend and week out against great athletes and good coaches.To prepare and win the X’s and O’s chess match.Which may have been the biggest issue.In that awful loss against the Giants last year.The more I read.The more I’m convinced the greatest offseason acquisition would be Nolan/Koetter.Pat Hill even sounds old school in his approach.I willnot and won’t be swayed by some talking heads.That maybe reading teleprompters for thier ideas on the game. I AM A FALCONS FAN

hiramsaint

June 13th, 2012
2:30 pm

maybe thats why the failclowns choke every year-they think they’re supposed to be playing basketball. silly sam , rebounds are for the hawks…who choked too !

mikey

June 13th, 2012
2:34 pm

Right ON FanATical! This team has an exceptional shot at blending the best Coach/Scheme/Fit/Depth/Personel in the NFL. In addition, I believe that they will never remove the human element in players on the field. Winning football still requires a group of 11 players doing the right things in harmony. They do get knowledge, insight, confidence, energy and enthusiasm from their coaches and their teammates. That is why you can’t just bring in a bunch of stars and win. Sam Baker is a gifted athelete who encountered serious physical injury. I sincerely hope that his surgeries have given him a chance to rise to the level of play that he is capable. I wish him the best! He is in competition with some very talent ed atheletes and he has good coaches to motivate him and assess his play. I am very optimistic about our O-Line this year and am anxious to see the training and competition during training camp. I certainly haven’t given up on Sam B. and hope for his sake and that of our team that his physical issues are behind him. GO FALCONS!

woof woof

June 13th, 2012
2:38 pm

pampered SoCal wimps…..grow some nads. His next kid gonna be named Moon Unit?
How’s his dad doing with that other league? Is it still around? The Baker boy might be looking for work if he doesn’t turn it around.

[...] to Original Content From Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog): read more Related Articles Share About Author [...]

You're not Bob Marley or from Jamaica, Mon!

June 13th, 2012
2:50 pm

Heard Julio got rid of the dreads….they were girly-boy, fake, hair extensions anyways.
Now if all the fake, dread players would get rid of that crap. Notice those players are the ones that have their helmets pop off most often…can’t fit. (colleges have a new rule- gonna start making players leave the game for plays or series when it pops off on field.) I. Crowell at UGA needs to take note. Coaches are.
Back to the dreads…players could legally tackle another by his dreads and that’s what they should do…..if it were real….but since those ‘locks are mostly fake, it be like grabbing a tear-away jersey. They’d get a handful of girly-boy, extensions!

Chub Rock

June 13th, 2012
2:56 pm

No matter what happens this season, Sam Baker is in his final year as an Atlanta falcon. Dimitroff said “His focus is to come back and win that left-tackle job” which tells me he has not been given the starting job instead he will have to earn it. Back problems don’t go away guys, herniated discs are life long problems. You just deal with the pain. He will never be as strong in his core after these back injuries as he was before the injuries. His career is in jeopardy. The fact that he was only a decent LT before the injuries should tell us all we need to know about his future in football as a starter. I’m told he had another surgery this off season so the procedure that put him out during the season was not enough.

JSS

June 13th, 2012
2:57 pm

Ha ha, 2:50PM is why you never feel sorry for Falcons fans when they get their feelings crushed in January!

Falcon James

June 13th, 2012
2:59 pm

All I am going to say is that if Baker is going to hold somebody and get a penalty, he just as well needs to fall down on them. So far, hurt or not hurt, he has not impressed me in the least. If he was having back issues, he should of said something instead of letting people getting by him and have a free shot on Ryan.

tonio

June 13th, 2012
3:19 pm

dreads or no dreads if Julio plays a whole season he will get more then 1,200 yards, 10 Tds and a top 5 receiver if he can stay healthy

SirReal

June 13th, 2012
3:26 pm

I’m sorry but I just absolutely have NO faith in Baker at ALL. What I’m sick of is all the excuses made for him. Why dont we look at it for what it is. We reached for him. Period. That year had a big run on LTs in the 1st rd. Why wasnt he selected in that run? B/C he wasnt a 1st rd talent. Secondly, (for all my conspiracy theorists.lol) this was a time in which Bakers pappy was the Commish of the Arena Football League. Blank owns the Force…..see the dots connecting? Or maybe it was just coincidence perhaps? I beg to differ. This is the lineup Baker’s gonna see this year: KC- Tamba Hali= Beast, DEN- Elvis Dumervil=Beast, SD-He MIGHT be ok, CARx2- Charles Johnson= Beast, WAS-good 3-4 front 7, he might have trouble. OAK- Richard Seymour=STILL a beast, PHI-Trent Cole=we all remember the game last season, DAL- Demarcus Ware= Ravaging Nightmare.lol NOx2- new Spags D…he loves his front 4…and Baker ALWAYS holds and stalls drives when we play N.O. TBx2-He might be ok…..MIGHT ARI-HIGHLY underrated D NYG-we all remember the playoff debacle. Good luck Sam….you’ll be lucky to still be starting after the bye week.

Teams should have never stopped shaving rookies heads

June 13th, 2012
3:39 pm

At least we know the helmet will fit better and stay on with the new haircut