Atlanta Falcons: Sam Baker bounces back




FLOWERY BRANCH–Playing left tackle in the NFL is one of the toughest jobs in sports.

Trying to do it with a balky back — and who knows what else — like Falcons tackle Sam Baker did for who knows how long, makes it nearly impossible.

As Baker struggled last season and eventually lost his job, his linemates kept saying his health was the issue. But in the cold, bottom-line business of professional football, the reasons for Baker’s struggle hardly mattered. He had to play better.

He’s doing so now, in no small part because he’s also healthier now. So it’s satisfying for Baker to have the kind of season that he and his teammates always knew he could.

“For all these guys that have always had my back and stood by me, to be back playing well feels real good right now,” Baker said.

When the Falcons selected Baker with the No. 21 overall pick in the 2008 draft, it was with the idea that he would be a building block along with quarterback Matt Ryan. They had selected Ryan 13 spots earlier and now had the tackle they expected to protect his back side from pass rushers for years.

But after Baker lost his job to Will Svitek during the 2011 season, it wasn’t clear if he would return to make his $2.6 million salary this season. Along the way, Baker has undergone three back surgeries but he is still here and the Falcons are better off for it.

“He’s battled through some injuries in the past few years, some things that not everybody knew about,” Falcons center Todd McClure said. “He’s having some success and he’s a different guy mentally. I’m really happy for him.”

Falcons offensive line coach Pat Hill was hired after last season and so all he’s known is a healthy, productive Baker. He said Baker is diligent, intelligent and watches plenty of film in preparation for his opponents, who typically are the opposition’s best pass-rushers along the defensive line.

Hill likens playing left tackle to golf, in that the player’s pass protection set-up must be consistent, and basketball, because linemen must protect the quarterback like he’s the basket and the opponents are trying to score. Hill said Baker is in a consistent groove like a golfer and also isn’t biting on the assorted fakes ends use to try to get to Ryan.

“Every week he is playing against a premiere pass-rusher,” Hill said. “I think Sam has done a very good job this year. He’s worked on his fundamentals. I think he’s held up really well out there.”

Hill said his group takes the job of keeping Ryan upright very seriously and the line, with Baker as the anchor in pass protection, has been efficient this season.

The Falcons have allowed 25 sacks on 539 pass attempts. The 4.6 sack percentage ranks second to the Giants (3.3) among NFC playoff qualifiers and contenders.

According NFL statistics, Atlanta’s opponents have recorded 69 total hits against the quarterback, a 12.8 percentage of all drop-backs. That percentage ranks third behind the Giants (8.6) and Cowboys (11.8) among the NFC’s top teams.

Falcons coach Mike Smith said cohesiveness has helped the offensive linemen, most of whom have been together for several seasons.

Baker has started 55 games since 2008. Center Todd McClure started seven games in 2000 and has been the full-time starter in every season since. Left guard Justin Blalock has been a starter since 2007 and right tackle Tyson Clabo since 2006.

Even with rookie guard Peter Konz joining the lineup this season, the Falcons still have one of the most experienced groups. According to the NFL, the 447 combined career starts by Atlanta’s linemen are third-most in the league behind Detroit (592) and Tennessee (457)

“The offensive line, probably of any position group, is a group that you have to try to keep together if you can,” Smith said.

The Falcons will have to make some decisions about that soon. Clabo and Blalock each signed long-term deals in July 2011 and Konz’s rookie deal is for four years.

But McClure is on a one-year contract and Baker is in the final year of the contract he signed as a rookie.

Baker can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He said he’d like to re-sign with the Falcons.

“Definitely,” he said. “I don’t know how everything shakes out. But I love living here. My home is here. We will see how everything plays out.”

LATEST NEWS

Still no consistent running game with playoffs near

Lesson learned, Falcons expect focused effort at Detroit

Safety William Moore misses practice

If the playoffs started today . . .

One win away from wrapping up home-field advantage

Falcons look ‘Super’ in 34-0 rout of the Giants

Defense rides fourth down stops to shutout of Giants

QUOTES: What they said after the 34-0 Falcons victory

Diving intervention: Lord tells Roddy to play vs. Giants

Video: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan’s post-game comments

OTHER RECENT STORIES

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon takes over as leader of the defense

Falcons rewind: Reeves reflects on march to the Super Bowl

Who’s the best receiving tandem? Roddy & Julio? Cruz & Nicks?

Atlanta Falcons: Quarterback Matt Ryan is not going over the physical cliff

Get instant updates on Twitter at AJCFalcons and you can join the Facebook Fan page at AJC Falcons.


36 comments Add your comment

ATLSWAG

December 21st, 2012
9:47 am

FIRST FINALLY!!!!! LOL

ATLSWAG

December 21st, 2012
9:49 am

SAM BAKER IS FINE HE CAN HANDLE ANYBODY WHEN HEALTHY

ATLSWAG

December 21st, 2012
9:49 am

warfalcon

December 21st, 2012
10:06 am

Keep up the good work OL,and take SUE out of the game SAT..ONE GAME AT A TIME ,LETS GO FALCONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Fan since 66

December 21st, 2012
10:07 am

Gotta tell ya, I had serious concerns about Baker with his health. If looks like, (fingers crossed here), he may have that behind him. I have never doubted his work ethic or his desire. Can’t imagine playing with a back problem. The older I get the more I respect the back! Here’s hoping that Sam will continue to improve at the position and remain healthy. We need to keep our O line intact to help protect Matty Ice!
Go Falcons!

Scott Case's leggs

December 21st, 2012
10:23 am

resign GRAVY Jackson for our D-LINE!

Simply the Best

December 21st, 2012
11:07 am

Agreed He gets the job done when Healthy

D man

December 21st, 2012
12:18 pm

Sam finally gets some overdue respect. Way to go Sam. Way to show all the Nea Sayers that they were wrong last season…

[...] Atlanta Falcons This entry was posted in Atlanta Falcons and tagged Atlanta, back, Baker, bounces, Falcons. Bookmark the permalink. ← Week 16 Picks: Falcons, Texans can clinch home-field advantage (Shutdown Corner) [...]

coleski

December 21st, 2012
12:55 pm

Thanks to Sam Baker. I’m glad you’re having a pretty g00d year.

Mikey

December 21st, 2012
1:03 pm

Congratulations Sam Baker for overcoming terrible health issues and hanging in there. As many of us hoped, you have emerged as a top left tackle in the NFL. You are looking better every week and it is SO nice to have that power on our line. Keep it going and keep getting better every week. I really hope you get to enjoy the satisfaction of wearing a very heavy Superbowl ring soon. This team could do it with your help! GO FALCONS! YOU ARE RISING UP!

Geno

December 21st, 2012
1:09 pm

Good article. The OLine has taken a lot of hits this year (no pun intended) and deserve some love…especially after last week’s game! Let’s ride this thing all the way to the Lambardi trophy….

TUG MAN

December 21st, 2012
1:30 pm

the oline is like the little engine that could.they think they can i known they can!!!!!!!!!fly high big birds!!!!!!!! you know!!!!!!!!!

Samuel

December 21st, 2012
2:02 pm

At one point I thought he was all but out the door. Now he’s healthy and has his feet up under him. Kudos to you Sam Baker, I talked about you badly, when things were’nt going your way. It only proves that persistent, hard work and the ability to believe in yourself pays off……

Paddy

December 21st, 2012
2:24 pm

Nice ‘fess up’ Samuel. It is easy to kick a guy when he is down, glad you came clean and are now on the Baker bandwagon. Wish more people would admit when they are wrong. Thats maning up!

Turbo B

December 21st, 2012
2:26 pm

Great work, Sam. You’ve earned it.

Turbo B

December 21st, 2012
2:27 pm

What’s up with that picture? Rams tackling each other? No wonder they stink this year!

Trade 4 Tim Teabow

December 21st, 2012
2:28 pm

N E cahnce the Flacons get Tim Teabow? He is just wat they needs.

1stn10

December 21st, 2012
2:54 pm

I guess some of you had to stop calling him T-rex.

Loyalfalconfrmthemississippi

December 21st, 2012
3:40 pm

Dude no atlanta faithfull wants tim teblow in a falcon uniform. We dont want that waste of a roster spot

Loyalfalconfrmthemississippi

December 21st, 2012
3:43 pm

@turbo i dont think those are rams jerseys, they look like college jerseys to me. I dont see a ram logo either. Possibly bakers college team

Answer This

December 21st, 2012
4:21 pm

Tebow….really? Anyway, keep doing what you doing Muffin Man (aka Baker…..get it?).

Delbert D.

December 21st, 2012
4:48 pm

The surgeons implanted a special stainless steel spine made from parts of turnstiles.

Sean

December 21st, 2012
4:48 pm

What? Of course those are Rams jerseys. What do you mean you can’t see a “Ram logo”??? It’s the Ram horn on the helmet. Sam Baker played for USC (Southern Cal), and their unis aren’t even close.

Sorry, but do you watch football?

Sean

December 21st, 2012
4:50 pm

Unless it was sarcasm, in which case, I’m a moron. Quite possible.

chuck

December 21st, 2012
4:50 pm

Sam, I apologize for having doubts about you being able to come back from your injuries. I think you have been the second best OL this year. I hope you get resigned and play out your career here and one day retire in peace.

[...] Sam Baker bounces back [...]

Bullseye

December 21st, 2012
7:46 pm

The people who bitched about SB’s performance while he was injured also thought Matt Ryan had a noodle arm and that we gave uo to much for JJ. EFFF-em!!!!
Go Falcons.

R OReilly

December 21st, 2012
10:20 pm

Whats the deal with the Rams football players above in all the Falcons headlines?

bullrusher1

December 22nd, 2012
2:29 am

I’ll admit it. I was one of the guys who hated Baker last year and wanted him out of the Dome. Baker, I’m sorry, and I am thankful that you’re feeling better and are knocking son DEs on their butts. Way to rise up #72. GO FALCONS!

E LOVE

December 22nd, 2012
8:44 am

Baker, is standing up this year

[...] Sam Baker bounces back [...]

SirReal

December 22nd, 2012
12:34 pm

I was one of the biggest critics of ol T-Rex arms but I think that the pins in his back are holding up well. I have always said however that a back injury is very serious and when the helmet is off, he’s still a human being. I’m cautiously optimistic that this is not just due to it being a contract year for him but rather more of everything we’ve read up here. Either way, it’s good to see.

The Real Dirty Bird!

December 23rd, 2012
9:41 am

Do your home work…..NFL players always bounce back in their last year of thier contract! To get the new one done and then back to their laid back ways….

It would be nice if the real workers could do tthe same…..12 year seaon ticket holder.he samethe

[...] Atlanta Falcons: Sam Baker bounces back FLOWERY BRANCH–Playing left tackle in the NFL is one of the toughest jobs in sports. Trying to do it with a balky back — and who knows what else — like Falcons tackle Sam Baker did for who knows how long, makes it closely impossible. As Baker … Read more on Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

[...] Sam Baker bounces back [...]