Chief Concerns – Rob Gerster
When you are a 6’4” and 228 pound wide receiver, you should always be open. The great Tony Gonzalez is 6’5” and 247… He can only dream about being as fast as Baldwin or to jump as high as the former Pitt wide receiver. Yet, if you want to get the ball to Gonzalez, it really isn’t that hard. He finds way to get open. Put a linebacker on him, and Gonzalez will run away from him. Put a cornerback on him and Gonzalez will use his strength to clear the space he needs to catch the ball. Put a safety on him, and Gonzalez will use both his speed and his strength to abuse the poor safety. Unless you double or even triple covered him, he is always open.
At this point, let’s take a step back. Let me say that I fully understand that Baldwin is a wide receiver and Gonzalez is a tight end, so there are nuances that make the two players situations different. And no, I am not trying to make a comparison of a sure first ballot Hall of Fame player and what I think is going to happen to a young man that has yet to break the 50 catch mark for his career.
I would however like to point out that in 1997, Gonzalez’ rookie season, he tallied 33 catches for 368 yards and two touchdowns – one of which was on a blocked punt. Baldwin’s rookie season (or more correctly half season) was 21 catches for 254 yards and 1 touchdown. Are you surprised that they were that close? In year two, Gonzalez improved all the way up to an average tight end with 59 / 621 / 2. It was in his third season that he started chiseling his bust for Canton. He improved everywhere but he became a weapon in the end zone raising his touchdowns to 11.
Baldwin’s second season will be as pedestrian as his first, and we are left to wonder what happened. Is it mental? Is it the offensive play selection? Is it coaching? Is it effort?
There are many reasons I chose to compare Baldwin to Gonzalez. First of all, as I previously stated they had very similar rookie seasons. Each man has a physical advantage over practically any defender that an opposing defensive coordinator assigns to him, but there is one thing that Tony G is known for, that we just don’t know yet about with Jonathan Baldwin.
Before we look at a potential major difference, let’s examine the major reason that Baldwin did not improve this year. He cannot consistently get off the line of scrimmage. I don’t care how fast you are, how tall you are, how high you can jump, or even how strong you are, if you can’t get past the jam from a cornerback, you can’t catch passes in the NFL. Defensive coordinators have studied the film on this young man and they have concluded that he has trouble disengaging from the cornerback. Until he proves them wrong, he is going to get a steady diet of press coverage.
A wide receiver that may not be able to get into his pattern is not going to be the primary target very often, and forget timing patterns – those will turn into interceptions if he isn’t into position. This is hardly the ideal situation for either Baldwin or the Chiefs offense.
Now back to Tony Gonzalez… As a rookie, Gonzalez found out that same lesson being hammered into Baldwin’s head. Linebackers simply wouldn’t let him go. At that time the Chiefs were using the West Coast offense, and timing patterns were the essence of moving the ball. Like Baldwin, Gonzalez found out that it is tough to catch the ball when you are four yards away from where you should be in your pattern and even harder with a linebacker draped all over you.
What Gonzalez did, and what he is still noted to do, is to go to work. He worked on his strength, and using leverages to get free from his larger opponents. He learned how use swim moves to break the hand grips that veteran defenders so expertly hide from the eyes of the game officials. He learned to use his physical gifts to shield defenders away from the ball, but most importantly he watched film. Lots and lots of film. He learned the idiosyncrasies of the opponents and used their pet moves against them. Once he learned to reliably get into his pattern, all his quarterback had to do is throw the ball high and it would be caught. Even when he was covered pretty well he was open.
Jonathan Baldwin’s third year will be very important to him and to the Chiefs. The team is very likely to turnover the coaching staff and the quarterbacks. The Chiefs will need a reliable weapon no matter what offense they are using. If the Chiefs turn to a young quarterback as they are likely to do, he will need a security blanket that can bail him out like Gonzalez did for Tyler Thigpen. Baldwin can be that guy.
From what I observed in training camp, Baldwin is a very willing worker – nobody should question his effort. Like a lot of young men, he needs to learn how to effectively work. Tony Gonzalez worked effectively, and has a HOF career to show for it. If Jonathan Baldwin can learn to do the little things that add up to being big things, he can start building a strong career as well, and like Tony G, he will always be open.