Friday, June 17, 2011
Perfect strangers in Kansas City
By Bill Williamson ESPN.com
The Kansas City Chiefs are hoping first-round pick Jon Baldwin can stretch defenses next season.
The April draft didn't just give Matt Cassel another offensive weapon. He also got himself a house guest.
In a locked-out offseason full of oddities, yet another strange dynamic developed shortly after the draft. Cassel welcomed a perfect stranger into his home -- a stranger who is 6-foot-4, can jump like a basketball star, and who gives the Chiefs’ offense a much-needed vertical threat.
Welcome to the Cassel home, Jon Baldwin. Don’t worry about wiping your feet at the door. Just make yourself comfortable.
“It was great getting to know Matt,” Baldwin said this week. “I stayed at his house. I ate dinner with him and his family. We’re really building a relationship together. We’ve talked a lot of X's and O's. It’s important. I think [the lockout] is going to crack soon and we have to be ready. We all have to stay in great shape and hit the job at 100 mph when they tell us. When the lockout is over, we have to be in Kansas City the next day, so this work together is important.”
Cassel, who has been lauded by teammates for his leadership during the lockout, contacted Baldwin shortly after the Chiefs took the big Pittsburgh receiver with the No. 26 overall pick and arranged for him to join him in Kansas City for team workouts. Baldwin said the Chiefs are planning to get together soon for more sessions.
“It’s great to meet everyone, and it’s a really good team,” Baldwin said. “I feel blessed to be part of it.”
Matt Cassel has provided top pick Jon Baldwin with a little offseason direction -- and housing.
In addition to bonding with Cassel at the quarterback’s home, Baldwin and his new quarterback also shared a special experience. Along with offensive linemen Casey Wiegmann and Ryan Lilja, Cassel and Baldwin drove to Joplin, Mo., to assist in the aftermath of the horrendous tornadoes that ripped through the town. Seeing the aftermath of the tragedy not only connected Baldwin to his new teammates but it also gave him a connection to Chiefs fans and his new home state. The players helped clean up livable homes to assist Joplin residents.
“It was devastating to go into a town that was completely wiped out,” Baldwin said. “We just wanted to help the people as much as we could.”
There were reports that Baldwin initiated his involvement in the Joplin trip. While being interviewed for this story, Baldwin sounded uncomfortable talking about that aspect and said he didn't “want to take any credit” for it. Baldwin was soft-spoken and polite during the interview. He often said he was appreciative of the opportunity in Kansas City and he spoke several times of the importance of working hard and fitting in as a rookie.
I've dealt with plenty of diva receivers. I covered the likes of Randy Moss and Brandon Marshall on a daily basis. My diva radar did not sound when I spoke with Baldwin. Of course, he could turn into one, but it seems like he is set on going into the NFL with a clean slate.
He built a bit of a reputation for being a diva in college at Pittsburgh. There were work ethic questions. However, Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli is known for staying away from players who are considered character risks, and the Chiefs have said they are not worried about Baldwin being a problem player in the NFL.
It seems that Baldwin is planning to do his best to take advantage of a good situation. Soon after being drafted, Baldwin received a text from mentor and fellow former Pitt receiving great Larry Fitzgerald. The veteran told Baldwin he was fortunate to be able to play for Kansas City coach Todd Haley. Haley was the Arizona Cardinals' offensive coordinator and has a good relationship with Fitzgerald.
“Larry told me I will love playing for Coach Haley,” Baldwin said. “I look forward to it.”
“As well as we ran the ball last year, we want to build our offense with more weapons on the outside,” Haley said. “It will make us harder to defend, hopefully. The name of the game is matchups and this hopefully will create some good matchups for us. It should make Dwayne Bowe better. It should make Matt Cassel better, it should make [tight end] Tony Moeaki better and it should make the running game better. That’s the plan. Let’s see if Jon can come in and do what we think he can do.”
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. agrees with Haley that Kansas City's offense got more potent with the addition of Baldwin.
“I think they will ask Baldwin to be pretty much just a deep threat,” Williamson said. “He isn't a super quick-twitch guy, but he does have build-up speed and certainly knows how to get up and make plays on the ball deep downfield. And that ability should help Cassel, who isn't a real accurate passer deep.”
Baldwin said that the Chiefs' offense was plenty dangerous before his arrival and that he simply wants to enhance the group. If he does, he’ll likely be welcome back at Cassel’s house any time.