FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- In chats and mailbags throughout the entire offseason there’s been one dominant question from fans of the Atlanta Falcons.
Why are they sticking with Sam Baker at left tackle?
Well, I just had lunch with Atlanta coach Mike Smith. We touched on a bunch of topics and I’ll share that with you in other items on this blog in the coming days and in our Camp Confidential profile on the Falcons later this week.
But let’s deal with the Baker situation now. I basically asked Smith to explain why the Falcons are sticking with a guy that clearly had a rough season last year and the coach explained the rationale at length.
“I think behind the quarterback and the head coach, the left tackle is the most scrutinized position in the National Football League,'' Smith said. "We drafted Sam to be our left tackle. We felt when we drafted him that he had the skill set to play left tackle. I think the thing that people don’t realize when analyzing our football team and analyzing Sam is, Sam has been very resilient. Sam has fought through a lot of injuries through his first four years in the league. I see his toughness. We see his toughness as a staff and an organization and believe that, if he stays healthy, he’s going to be a very productive offensive tackle for a long time to come. We drafted him for that.
“We feel that, unfortunately, he’s had the injury bug and has not been able to play as much as we’d like and as much as he’d like. But when you watch him play when he’s healthy, you feel like he is a starting left tackle in the National Football League.’’
The obvious follow-up question -- “'Is Baker completely healthy now?’’ -- came next.
“He is,’’ Smith said. “I feel like he had a very good offseason. He had a couple of procedures done after the season. One of the things we talked about when he was leaving here at the end of last season, was we had a conversation like, 'Sam, let’s not worry about the football, the Xs and Os and all that kind of stuff. We want you to focus on getting your body to feel the best that it’s felt since you’ve been in the NFL.' He’s done a lot of work in that area.
"I don’t think our confidence as a staff and an organization has ever wavered on Sam Baker. We think Sam Baker is a starting left tackle in the NFL.’’