Doug Baldwin is back on the practice field and is expected to be ready for Seattle’s opener Sept. 9 in Denver. But he’ll do so without any game reps, and on a left knee he says is at 80 to 85 percent now.
Doug Baldwin, it seems, is feeling even more like the wise, old veteran than usual these days.
“This is a young-guy team now,” Baldwin observed Tuesday at the Seahawks’ facility in Renton, his first media comments during training camp on one of its final days.
Baldwin is a few weeks from his 30th birthday, which makes one an old guy in NFL terms. He’s one of the ever-shrinking links to the Seahawks’ Super Bowl golden days. And he’s battling a knee injury that he candidly acknowledged will be an issue all season.
It’s not an optimal situation for a core player vital to the Seahawks’ success in a season of seismic transformation. The old guys like Baldwin, Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are being counted upon to nurture the new nucleus who will largely determine the fate of a mysterious season.
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Wright is off having arthroscopic knee surgery this week. Baldwin may or may not have had knee surgery during his extended absence from the practice field during training camp. His answer to a direct question Tuesday about whether he went under the knife was shrouded in mystery.
“It depends on your definition of surgery,” he replied. “Next question.”
At one point in his podium interview, Baldwin and Wagner had good-natured interplay about Wagner’s belief in “The Law of Attraction,’’ which posits that people can bring positive or negative experiences into their life by virtue of positive or negative thoughts.
If the Seahawks can find a way to will Baldwin to another productive season at wide receiver, despite his knee issues, it would be a major boost to their 2018 outlook. Baldwin’s credentials are beyond reproach. He tied Bobby Engram’s club record for catches in a season with 94 in 2016, and he led the NFL with 14 touchdown catches in 2015. He is Wilson’s No. 1 target and primary security blanket.
The good news is that Baldwin is back on the practice field this week and is expected to be ready for Seattle’s opener Sept. 9 in Denver. But he’ll do so without any game reps, and on a left knee he says is at 80 to 85 percent now.
“And the truth of the matter is it won’t be 100 percent,” he elaborated, somewhat ominously. “It’s something I’ve got to deal with for the rest of the season.”
The lack of preseason game action isn’t a major issue for a guy who has been a Seahawks fixture for seven seasons and a Pro Bowler the past two. Though Baldwin would have preferred a chance to build his comfort level in Brian Schottenheimer’s new offense and sharpen his longstanding rapport with Wilson, missing the preseason won’t be a huge hindrance, he feels.
“Hopefully at this point it’s like riding a bike,” he said.
The knee is another story. Baldwin said he first experienced an issue during the first week of organized team activities in May. He sat out minicamp in June. When training camp opened in late July, he practiced for two days before being shut down when the knee was still sore.
“I realized it wasn’t where we wanted it to be,” Baldwin said. “In order for me to sustain the level of play, to be able to express myself athletically that I want to, it was time to do something more serious.”
Watching his teammates run through drills without him, and skipping games, even meaningless ones, was trying. He’ll be held out of Thursday’s preseason finale against Oakland as well.
“I’ve been playing this game since I was 6 years old,” he said. “I don’t know what it’s like to not have football in my life. So to be out this long, it was hard. It was hard emotionally. So I’m just glad to be back out there and feeling myself running again.”
On game days, while the team was in California and Minnesota to play the Chargers and Vikings, Baldwin was running at the VMAC, with the season opener in mind.
“It’s been a whole progression for me up to this point,” he said. “Obviously, you guys see I’m still doing it, and it’s going to be, again, an ongoing, continuous thing through the year.”
Baldwin raved about the young receivers who have had an extended showcase in his absence, including David Moore (“He can pretty much do anything on the football field.”), Marcus Johnson (“incredibly fast”), Cyril Grayson (“same thing but has the shiftiness to go inside in the slot”), Keenan Reynolds (“his ability to be an every-type receiver, especially showing his ability in the slot, his cerebral-ness”) and others.
“We have guys across the board who can do everything the offense requires and asks them to do,” he said. “So I think we’re in a really good spot. It’s going to be tough on the coaches to narrow it down.”
Baldwin feels keenly the transition the Seahawks are going through. An undrafted free agent in 2011, he was part of the rise to consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. And now he’s watched a steady stream of teammates leave, including Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril since last year, with Earl Thomas remaining in limbo.
“It’s been difficult to really tell what our identity is going to be as a team,” Baldwin said, “just because those guys for so long have helped create the identity we’ve had as Seahawks, and the championship mentality and this championship culture.
“Now with them not here, a lot of the young guys, they’re kind of just finding their way. It’s OK, because we had to do it when we first came in as well. But it’s going to take time. I think just as time goes on, generations seem different. I look at some of these guys and sometimes think they’re different from the guys we had. Take it for whatever you want, it’s just different.”
While those young players find their way, the Seahawks need Baldwin to help mentor and nurture them. But mostly, they need him catching passes from Wilson and making his annual assault on 1,000 receiving yards.
It may be a young-guy team. But Baldwin is one of the essential old guys, problematic knee or not.