Chiefs WR Baldwin finally getting back onto field
Here's what most Chiefs fans know of Jon Baldwin: He's a highly touted wide receiver whose checkered history in college caused his draft stock to fall and his fight with a teammate in training camp resulted in an injury that's kept him out all season.
Here's what Baldwin wants fans to know: He is willing to do whatever it takes to help Kansas City win on the field and is eager to restore his tarnished reputation.
''I just need to do everything I can to help the team,'' Baldwin said while standing in front of his locker after practice this week, the first time he's been a full participant since hurting his thumb. ''That's the main thing, do whatever the team asks me to do.''
If he does that the rest of the week, there's a chance that the 26th overall draft pick will finally be active for a regular-season game Sunday at Indianapolis.
''I know he's excited,'' coach Todd Haley said. ''He's been working hard. And I'm excited. It's hard to sit there on the sidelines and not get to do much, and this is another kid who really cares and wants to be in there trying to help, so we'll see as this week progresses where he is.''
There is little argument that Baldwin possesses a unique set of tools.
He has prototypical size at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, and top-end speed that allows him to stretch the field. His large hands catch just about everything thrown his way, he's willing to fight for extra yards and his leaping ability should help one of the worst red-zone offenses in the league.
All those glowing characteristics come with a caveat, though.
Baldwin was saddled with a diva reputation at Pittsburgh, once accusing his college coaches of conspiring to hurt his draft stock. He was charged with disorderly conduct and harassment after an incident with another student, though the chargers were later dropped, and more than once was called lazy for his sometimes languid blocking and route-running.
He didn't do much to change that perception during camp. He reportedly rubbed several veterans the wrong way, and it ultimately boiled over into a locker room fight with running back Thomas Jones that resulted in Baldwin missing several days before showing up with his right thumb in a cast. He spent the rest of camp doing conditioning work on the side.
Only in the past couple weeks did the cast come off and Baldwin start catching passes again, and this week he was out running routes and participating in full practices with the offense.
''He's being evaluated, just like everybody else. His evaluation has just been a little different,'' Haley said. ''It's been interesting because he's over on the other field most of the time, having the play read to him. While the rest of the guys are on field No. 1, he's on field No. 2, breaking his own two-man huddle, because there's a coach giving him the play, and then running the play.''
Haley believes that regimen has allowed Baldwin to stay in shape, and that by mirroring the work of the offense in scrimmages he's picked up the playbook enough to contribute soon.
Perhaps even this weekend.
''Hopefully that accelerates where he is,'' Haley said. ''We just have to see where he is physically, but I know he's in good condition, and he's really been working hard, so I'm just excited for his own personal self to get out there and start practicing again, full on, with his teammates.''
His teammates seem pleased to have him back, too.
The Chiefs rank 30th out of 32 teams in passing offense, and those numbers would be even worse had Matt Cassel not hit on a couple deep passes to Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston in a 22-17 victory over Minnesota last weekend. They're averaging fewer than 160 yards per game through the air, better than only the Vikings and Jacksonville.
Kansas City is just one spot better in total offense, averaging a shade over 270 yards.
''He's a guy that's been working really hard these last few weeks. He's practicing and hopefully he's a guy who can come in and contribute,'' Cassel said of Baldwin, who stayed with the quarterback during part of the summer, when the lockout prevented organized team activities.
''We're still getting to know each other. We haven't spent a whole lot of time together,'' Cassel said. ''You hope we build that chemistry and rapport, and that takes a little bit of time.''