If third-year receiver Jonathan Baldwin fails to play up to his potential this season as a much-needed complement to No. 1 target Dwayne Bowe, it won’t be for lack of conditioning.
After getting a taste of coach Andy Reid’s fast-paced, West Coast offense at organized team activities this spring, Baldwin realized he’d be better off reporting to training camp a tad lighter.
“In this offense, you’re getting a lot of reps,” said Baldwin, the Chiefs’ first-round pick in 2011. “It’s a way faster pace than it has been in the past, so you have to be in tip-top shape to do all the things and get all the reps you’re going to be getting in training camp.”
Baldwin, who is listed on the team’s official roster as 6 feet 4 and 230 pounds, says he now vacillates between 220 and 222 pounds.
“I think they were shocked that I came in as light as I was,” Baldwin said. “I ran the conditioning test about every other day when I was training. That was one thing that I wanted to be able to show, that I was in great shape.”
“He’s in great shape; he’s in great shape,” Reid said. “And listen, his body fat was way down when he left, and he’s a big man. … You look at the body fat, it’s low, single-digit low. He’s moving around great.”
Now the Chiefs are hoping the hard work he put in during the offseason improves his production on the field, where it remains to be seen whether a lighter Baldwin will actually make for a better Baldwin.
After two relatively uneventful seasons where he caught a grand total of 41 passes for 579 yards and two touchdowns, the Chiefs will either get better production from Baldwin or seek it from someone else, perhaps free-agent receiver Donnie Avery, who has had a strong camp.
“He’s going to see some one-on-one coverage this year,” quarterback Chase Daniel said. “You look at Bowe, one of the best receivers in the game, and Baldwin, in his own right, thinks he’s pretty dang good and I agree. We’re going to ask him to use his big body, get in the middle of the field and box some guys out. That’s one of his strengths, his big body. He’s got to use it.”
Throughout camp thus far, Baldwin has shown flashes of being a solid possession receiver. On one play, he’ll run a precise corner route, shield the defender from the ball and haul it in. That happened Sunday.
“He went up and caught it on his back shoulder,” said Daniel, who threw the pass to Baldwin. “It was unbelievable.”
But then there will inevitably be a play where he’ll run a route and let the pass hit him in the chest without ever looking for the ball. That happened Tuesday.
Baldwin, however, maintains that he’s eager to prove himself a worthy complement to Bowe, who is coming off a down year (59 catches, 801 yards, three touchdowns) but had very productive seasons in 2010 and 2011.
“Dwayne is a great receiver,” Baldwin said. “If people are going to double him and do things like that, I want to be dependable from the standpoint of (proving) I can make plays and help him out.”
When asked about Baldwin, Bowe was quick to remind people that it sometimes takes receivers a while to hit their stride in this league.
“I know he’s got it in him. We’re going to bring it out of him,” Bowe said. “He’s got all the right tools to help him and help me and also help the offense … he’s looking good, man. One-on-ones, seven-on-sevens … he’s got a big body and he’s using it. Only time will tell.”
In the meantime, Baldwin will continue to work on his game, all the while hoping the work he’s putting in will eventually pay off come September.
“You just keep working on route depth and details on routes and things of that nature, just so when the situation does occur, I’m ready and it’s no doubt in the coaches’ mind, no doubt in my mind and no doubt in Dwayne’s mind that I’m going to step up and be able to make plays for our team,” Baldwin said.