By Danny O’Neil
RENTON – Doug Baldwin’s second season was only half bad.
That wasn’t nearly good enough, though. Not for the wide receiver who came to Seattle in 2011 as an undrafted rookie and wound up leading the team in catches.
So when Baldwin had 11 catches halfway through an injury-riddled sophomore season, he wasn’t simmering on the backburner so much as stewing. When you raise the bar as high as Baldwin did coming out of Stanford, it can end up leaving you feeling low.
“A lot of it was I had so much pressure built on myself and high expectations on myself that I really didn’t know if I could achieve,” Baldwin said. “I kind of lost a little bit of confidence.”
Think about that the next time someone asks if these Seahawks might get complacent amid the Super Bowl forecasts for this season. While Seattle may have won 11 games last year and stood half a minute from playing for the conference championship, this is a roster full of young players still looking to validate themselves in one way or another.
Receiver Golden Tate and cornerback Brandon Browner enter the final year of their respective contracts. Safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman both could be in position to seek extensions next offseason.
And then there’s Baldwin, who is trying to show that last season was his aberration, not the rookie year when he caught 51 passes and became the first undrafted rookie to lead his team in receptions since the AFL-NFL merger.
He was the feel-good story of that 2011 season, the rookie from Stanford whose own college coach didn’t think he had much of an NFL future, who arrived for training camp with one change of clothes and proceeded to play his way not only onto the team, but into a prominent role.
It was the sequel that proved a little troublesome for Baldwin.
“At this time last year, Doug was pressing a little bit,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He was coming off a great first season. I think he came in just wanting to do so much.”
“You can see how relaxed he is,” Carroll said. “He’s playing like a vet.”
On this team, he is a vet. Tate is the only receiver on the roster with a longer Seahawks tenure than Baldwin, whose ability to find the soft spot in zone coverages can make him a quarterback’s security blanket.
“A very smart football player,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “He has the mind of a quarterback. He thinks all the time, thinking about what’s going on, what the coverage looks like and how he’s matched up with certain guys.”
The addition of Percy Harvin this offseason jumbled the pecking order, but any possibility that Baldwin’s role as a slot receiver would be eclipsed with Harvin’s addition has been answered over the past two months.
“(Doug) has shown his best,” Carroll said. “He’s making every claim why he has been a good football player and why we’re going to play him when it comes to this fall.”
That is the culmination of a comeback that began over the final eight regular-season games last year as Baldwin shook off an injury-riddled start in which he missed much of training camp with a hamstring injury, suffered two broken front teeth in the fourth quarter of Seattle’s Week 1 loss at Arizona and missed another game with a high ankle sprain.
“I had to overcome that,” Baldwin said, “and had to rebuild my confidence through the end of last year up to this year. Now, I’m healthy, I’m feeling good, my mental state is back to where it was.”