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LT Sam Baker set to be less predictable

7/27/2014

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Sam Baker adjusted his helmet with both hands, took a deep breath, then hunched down in his stance while eyeing Osi Umenyiora to his left.

The Atlanta Falcons left tackle, back from last year's season-ending knee surgery, hopped back with a quickness to block the rushing Umenyiora's path, then thwarted Umenyiora's rushing angle with a quick 1-2 counter of hands slaps.

Yes, it was just a drill between teammates at training camp. But the way offensive line coach Mike Tice applauded Baker's effort showed the offseason tutelage paid off.

Tice rode Baker about tweaking his pass set to help protect quarterback Matt Ryan better. Specifically, it's been about Baker setting more straight back rather than out toward the defensive end. Baker's previous method made him more susceptible to inside moves.

"He's actually changed it up quite a bit," Baker said of Tice revamping his set. "That's good because, going against a guy like Osi every day, he'll kind of get you into bad habits because he's so elusive and has a bunch of different moves.

"What (Tice) wants is a consistent set with a change-up every once in a while. But it's been really good for me."

Baker's play was really good two seasons ago, when he started all 16 games and helped keep Ryan upright during a 13-3 season and NFC Championship game appearance. But he wasn't foolish enough to overlook the shortcomings in his game even back then, particularly in terms of his set.

"I think I didn't change it up enough," Baker said. "I think I got real predictable with a lot of things. At one point, it was a lot of people that were knowing what (I) was doing. So, that's why I think (Tice) is going to help me a lot. He's such a good teacher. He'll tell you, 'Hey, this is what the problem is. This is how we're going to fix it.'"

Coach Mike Smith emphasized the importance of guys like Baker perfecting their sets in preparation for the regular season. Remember, Ryan was the most pressured quarterback in the league last season as he was sacked a career-high 44 times.

"To me, it's the key to being a good pass blocker," Smith said. "Everybody talks about the feet. It's not always about the feet. It's about the ability to set based on where the quarterback is going to be. And you also have to factor in where the defensive end is aligned. I think it does take an understanding of angles. It also takes an understanding of hand placement when you meet the rusher at the intersection point.

"I think it's very, very critical. I think it's often overlooked. ... The technical part of pass blocking is probably more important than anything. Sometimes, guys who are lesser athletes have been outstanding pass blockers because they understand angles and they understand hand placement."

Perfecting technique is the first step in Baker settling back in at left tackle. The other is remaining healthy coming off a significant left knee surgery.

Baker seems to be moving fine after missing 12 games last season, primarily due to his knee. Initially, he was concerned about the results following surgery.

"It was a patella repair, so it was one of those things where when I talked to Dr. (James) Andrews, he wasn't quite sure how it was going to go," Baker said. "But I feel good."

Baker hasn't worn a brace to start camp and didn't wear one much of the offseason.

"I always felt like it reduces the range of motion, with as much running as we do," Baker said. "It really hasn't been a problem up to his point."