The pick was somewhat surprising because the team had other needs and the supremely athletic Baldwin was considered a player who had the potential to be an off-field problem after some issues while at the University of Pittsburgh.
Then, at the end of his first NFL training camp, Baldwin was reportedly involved in a locker-room scuffle with then-Chiefs running back Thomas Jones. Baldwin suffered a broken thumb in the incident, which impacted his rookie season severely. It wasn’t a great start to a career that was being scrutinized anyway.
A year later, however, the Chiefs are not questioning the decision to draft Baldwin. They view Baldwin the same way they did when they drafted him. They think he can be a dynamic player who can make an impact on a varied offense because of his ability as a deep threat.
Most important, the Chiefs like the way Baldwin is developing off the field. Many people in the Chiefs’ camp raved about the improvement in the way Baldwin, who turned 23 this month, is handling himself this year.
“I think he has matured a lot in the past year,” Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said late in training camp. “I really like the way he has handled himself.”
Baldwin took advantage of extra repetitions in the offseason program and in training camp with No. 1 reciver Dwayne Bowe holding out. Bowe reported to the team last Friday and the Chiefs are hopeful he will be ready to make an impact in Week 1. Either way, expect Baldwin to be part of the starting mix when the Chiefs begin the season.
The team was impressed that Baldwin hunkered down and gleaned as much information and knowledge as possible from veteran receivers Steve Breaston and Terrance Copper. They are two of the more respected veterans on the roster because of their professional approach. For a player who needed to gain his team’s trust, it seems Baldwin has done just that this summer.
“Jon has done a great job of taking to the coaching that has been given to him,” Chiefs receivers coach Nick Sirianni said during training camp. “He takes his weaknesses and turns them into strengths. He comes to practice every day, just like all of our guys. He’s a professional trying to improve every day.”
The key to his success, Baldwin said, has been his study habits. He is working at learning the pro game.
“I take a lot of notes at night. I study those notes so that I don’t come back and make the same mistake,” Baldwin said. “That is one thing Coach Nick jars on; don’t make the same mistake twice. Being able to study my mistakes, and come out the next day to execute the mistake that I made the day before. I just make plays, and if there are any corrections needed, I go make the corrections and get better tomorrow.”
Labeled as a “wide target" by quarterback coach Jim Zorn, the 6-foot-4, 230 pound receiver has made highlight film catches on a regular basis in training camp. Baldwin, who showed flashes of brilliance late in his rookie season, has one catch in the preseason, but he hasn’t been targeted much. Still, quarterback Matt Cassel has praised Baldwin for stretching the field and keeping defenses honest in the preseason.
Expect the targets to rise dramatically for Baldwin in September. There is no doubt Cassel, who has taken Baldwin under his wing since shortly after he was drafted, is a Baldwin believer.
“Unfortunately, he was out with an injury for the first six games of the season,” Cassel said. “This year we had a whole offseason to work together and also all of camp. I feel very comfortable with Jon. He’s making a lot of progress himself.”
Baldwin credits a strong relationship with his quarterback for helping him becoming a better player.
“We talk a lot,” Baldwin said of himself and Cassel. “He tells me where he wants me to be on certain things and we talk back and forth. It makes the communication a lot better with him. He understands where I’m going to be on certain routes. I know where he’s going to put the ball on certain routes. That makes it a lot better for the both of us.
“The main thing is trust. One thing I always say to him is that I’m going to try to make every play possible. He understands that and just gives me a chance to make a play. I try to make as many plays as I possibly can for him.”
If the maturation of Baldwin continues, the Chiefs will never regret their once-questioned decision to draft him.