Top rookies stare down sophomore slumps

RENTON, Wash. -- Aldon Smith, Patrick Peterson and Doug Baldwin lit up the NFL, relatively speaking, as NFC West rookies last season.

Smith's 14 sacks led the 49ers. Peterson's four touchdowns on punt returns tied an NFL record. Baldwin led the Seattle Seahawks in receiving as an undrafted free agent.

Great work, guys, but what's next?

"One of the biggest things I keep hearing from people is not to have a sophomore slump," Baldwin said Thursday following a 45-minute voluntary Seahawks practice.

With that in mind, Baldwin has recommitted to perfection in every practice: no drops, no blown assignments.

"Right now, I'm working on my third perfect day," he said. "I think I have so much to prove, and so much more that I'm capable of."

A quick look at how Baldwin, Smith and Peterson can build on their early momentum:

  • Baldwin: One emphasis for 2012 will be for Baldwin to process information more quickly based on a firmer grasp of his responsibilities within a certain play and against specific defensive looks. Baldwin: "For me, it's knowing my assignment earlier and making sure I can read the defense quicker, and not being distracted by the disguises that defenses try to throw at us. Just becoming more a student of the game, making sure that when we have a certain player we're going against, making sure I study him more than I did last year." That will be especially important, because opponents now have much more information on Baldwin, a relative unknown as a rookie.

  • Smith: Collecting 14 sacks as a situational player was impressive. Smith figures to have additional opportunities to rush the passer as he becomes more of an every-down player. He'll also have to show an ability to defend against the run on early downs. Smith will have to become more familiar with opponents' tendencies from less predictable down-and-distance situations, and from more varied personnel groupings. An uncanny ability to stay on his feet even after getting knocked off-balance should serve Smith well in the transition. Analyzing his second season will require more than simply consulting the sack numbers.

  • Peterson: The impact Peterson made on special teams overshadowed his growth as a cornerback. Teams will presumably be more careful about punting to Peterson. Longer term, Peterson figures to make his greatest impact in the secondary. Forcing additional turnovers and remaining aggressive without incurring as many penalties seem like reasonable goals for Peterson heading into his second season. The talent is obviously there. Peterson is supremely confident. While Smith's role is changing and Baldwin will no longer benefit from being unknown, Peterson appears on course to continue on the trajectory he set last season.

The fact that these three rookies shined following a lockout-shortened offseason suggests they're in position to continue producing.