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Sam Baker is starting to get a little love...


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Sam Baker’s Big Challenge

The word on left tackle Sam Baker coming out of USC was that he might be moved inside to guard on some teams, but Atlanta’s grave need along the offensive line had them taking the former USC standout 21st overall and installing him at left tackle immediately. Set aside the jokes about the Trojans being the NFL’s 33rd team; the leap in scheme and complexity from the NCAA to the NFL is daunting no matter where you played. Baker would be challenged to master one of the game’s toughest positions right out of the box with a team that’s going to struggle to put an offense together in the short term. In theory, he’s a great fit for Atlanta’s new power game. Baker was regarded as a top draft prospect, but more as an overall player with less than elite agility mitigated by intelligence and in-line power.

Baker began his pro career fighting off Jacksonville’s Paul Spicer (and others) in a 20-17 loss to the Jaguars. He looked solid against the Colts in the follow-up, but his sternest test to date came in Week 3 against the Titans. Across the line was Kyle Vanden Bosch, the end who put up 12 sacks in 2007 and has been a featured player on one of the NFL’s best defensive lines. Vanden Bosch also led the league in Adjusted Quarterback Hits last year with 21, and finished seventh in Adjusted Hurries with 17.5. How would Baker, regarded as a very good combo pass/run blocker, but not specifically elite against speed rushers, fare?

My impression was overwhelmingly positive. On the Falcons’ first pass play of the game, a trips left with Michael Turner in the backfield, Baker fanned Vanden Bosch out of the perimeter and away from Matt Ryan with great technique and no help as Ryan completed a quick sideline pass to Michael Jenkins. Baker also works well with left guard Justin Blalock, who’s starting his second NFL season. On the next pass play, an incompletion to tight end Ben Hartsock, Vanden Bosch went inside to the guard at the snap. Instead of teaming up and losing linebacker Stephen Tulloch on the blitz, Baker let Blalock handle Vanden Bosch and dealt with Tulloch outside. Good teamwork there.

On running plays, Baker displays agility in getting to the second level and dealing with linebackers. He’s also good at the line in power situations. On the first play of the Falcons’ second drive, a draw to Turner, Baker took Vanden Bosch’s initial pursuit, led him upfield, and then blocked him away from the play as Turner headed left, right where Vanden Bosch had been. On the next play, another handoff to Turner, Baker chipped Vanden Bosch, who wound up with a personal foul after a late hit on Turner downfield. I don’t excuse cutting at all, and I was surprised to see it from Baker, given his ability to handle Vanden Bosch through the first quarter. Some would call it a veteran move. I call it unnecessary. Vanden Bosch pushed Baker back on the next play and got his first hit on Ryan. Baker got his revenge on the next play when he just poleaxed Vanden Bosch as Ryan threw a screen to Jenkins. Baker knocked Vanden Bosch right on his butt with a great power move. Not something you see every day.

I think that Baker will be an incredibly valuable addition to a line that finished 32nd in Adjusted Line yards last year. The days of the Petrino misfit schemes are over, and new line coach Paul Boudreau has two young, talented players on the left side in Baker and Blalock. As the Falcons crawl back to credibility, they seem to know that they’ll only go as far as their lines take them.

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I don’t excuse cutting at all, and I was surprised to see it from Baker, given his ability to handle Vanden Bosch through the first quarter. Some would call it a veteran move. I call it unnecessary.

Whoever wrote that has not and will never play Oline... we get few luxuries in life and one of them is being able to put dumb *** Bumrushing DE/DTs face first into the floor by cutting out their knees

playing in a playoff game last year i cut my opposition 15 times in a row... they had to take him off... if a guy cant take/handle a cut he should get off the football field....

its the OLines version of smack talk as we **** sure dont do any of that

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Baker has looked very good playing left tackle for the Falcons. He will have to how read the NFL's complex blitz packages as the season progresses, but he appears to have the physical talent and mental capacity to be successful for this year and beyond.

On another note:

The whole line has looked good. I have seen a few mistakes out of Blalock this preseason, but he performs well most of the time. Blaylock doesn't appear to be quite as mean as Baker, McClure, Dahl, Clabo, and Weiner. The offensive line has looked better than it has in preseason in years. I really like the unbalanced formation we ran where Clabo and Weiner was both lined up at the right side of the offensive line during last weeks game.

I have confidence in this offensive line, these recievers, the running backs, and Ryan. They just need experience. Experience, not additional talent, may be the only thing holding this offense back from being one of the best in the NFC. I just don't know how long that will take; it could be 8 games or 2 seasons.

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The fact that Baker has practiced day in/day out against one of the best DEs in the league has helped to bring him up to NFL speed quickly.

It's starting to look like Baker can hold down the LT spot for the next 10 years. If so, that will make the trade well worth it.

You are right about that. If I knew that Abe was going to be 100% healthy, I don't think I would trade him straight up for any other defensive end in the league. I want to say that he averages more sacks per games started than any other defensive end in the league. Plus he is better on run support than some ends (Freeney). And he can even drop back into coverage well (didn't he defend a pass thrown to MJ Drew last year in the Jax game). Baker can't get no better practice than that. I just wish we had a stud at DT for our interior linemen to practice against.

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The fact that Baker has practiced day in/day out against one of the best DEs in the league has helped to bring him up to NFL speed quickly.

It's starting to look like Baker can hold down the LT spot for the next 10 years. If so, that will make the trade well worth it.

that's exactly what makes baker an asset. abe will teach you all of the yays and nays about trying to stop the elite at that position

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I re-watched the TN game on NFL network last night and Baker unloaded a stack of pancakes on a linebacker (I don't think it was a safety) on Norwood's big play early in the 3rd quarter. I like his athleticism, he can get downfield and block and recover quickly if he gets knocked off balance or overextended by the pass ruch.

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Whoever wrote that has not and will never play Oline... we get few luxuries in life and one of them is being able to put dumb *** Bumrushing DE/DTs face first into the floor by cutting out their knees - Rodhands88

Amen brother!!! I played LB for a division 1 school and I can tell you there is nothing that will slow an all out linebacker blitz more than seeing a O-lineman looking at your kneecaps!

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Baker got his revenge on the next play when he just poleaxed Vanden Bosch as Ryan threw a screen to Jenkins. Baker knocked Vanden Bosch right on his butt with a great power move. Not something you see every day.

I had tingles run down my spine when I read this.

I'm starting to become a believer in this offensive line. The first 2-3 games will let us know for sure if they're for real. Personally, I think they're the real deal. I think the coaching has made a big difference and fewer injuries equals more cohesiveness.

I agree... and the converse is true as well- more cohesiveness equals fewer injuries.

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Hindsight being 20/20 Sam Baker does look, at this point, to be a steal at 21. Just to recap his credentials:

4-year starter for one of the premier college programs - The USC Trojans

3-Time All-American 1st Team

I believe he was ranked as a top-10 pick if he'd come out as a junior, but decided to stick around for his senior season.

His stock dropped for this draft as a result of injuries (including arthroscopic knee surgery in the Spring of 2007) which limited his effectiveness during his senior season.

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Whoever wrote that has not and will never play Oline... we get few luxuries in life and one of them is being able to put dumb *** Bumrushing DE/DTs face first into the floor by cutting out their knees

playing in a playoff game last year i cut my opposition 15 times in a row... they had to take him off... if a guy cant take/handle a cut he should get off the football field....

its the OLines version of smack talk as we **** sure dont do any of that

Exactly, it is a LEGAL move. Why would he not exuse using a move that every lineman in the NFL uses at some point or another. Untill the NFL makes the move illegal, there is no reason for a lineman not to employ it.

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Vanden Bosch also led the league in Adjusted Quarterback Hits last year with 21, and finished seventh in Adjusted Hurries with 17.5.

I'm always shaky on those phantom stats at Football Outsiders, but I would not be surprised to learn that KVB hit QBs more than anyone else last year. The dude simply will not give up on a play. He's got the best motor I've seen a defensive lineman have in about 10 years. I figured he would toy with Baker the way he did with Marcus McNeill last year in that regular season game before they met again in the playoffs.

Baker got his revenge on the next play when he just poleaxed Vanden Bosch as Ryan threw a screen to Jenkins. Baker knocked Vanden Bosch right on his butt with a great power move. Not something you see every day.

This is the play i mentioned in my in-game thread analysis. It came around the 13:50 mark in the second quarter. Anyone who watched pro wrestling would have recognized that move as the Goldberg Spear. He went *right through* KVB, spiking him to the ground. It was impressive.

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