If Baker really emerges then our receivers and Tight Ends could be among the best in the league.
Steelers' Baker plots route to roster
By Scott Brown
Monday, June 9, 2008
The ring may have been from just the Outback Bowl, but Dallas Baker fell in love with it, especially since his last name and jersey number had been engraved in it.
He wore it everywhere and took it off only when necessary, such as the time he went for a dip while he and his family were celebrating the Fourth of July at the beach in their hometown of New Smyrna, Fla. When he got out of the water, the ring was nowhere to be found, and Baker all but enlisted the beach patrol in an unsuccessful recovery effort.
"I was depressed for a while, because that ring meant everything to me," the former University of Florida standout said. "I ended up getting a letter when I went back to school for two-a-days, and a guy from Atlanta was saying he found my ring, and he would ship it to me."
The Steelers are hoping that Baker turns out to be every bit the found treasure as his cherished ring.
After spending his rookie season on the Steelers' practice squad, Baker will push for a roster spot and try to add depth to a wide receiving corps that features returning starters Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes and welcomes highly touted newcomer Limas Sweed.
The selection of Sweed in the second round of the NFL Draft in late April appeared to give the Steelers the tall receiver they have lacked since Plaxico Burress' departure following the 2004 season, but Baker should not be overlooked.
The 6-foot-3, 206-pound Baker impressed Steelers coaches with the catches he made on a regular basis during practice last season, and his knowledge of the offense has since grown.
"What a difference a year makes," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's confident. He has an understanding of what we ask him to do."
One thing that has the Steelers particularly excited about Baker, who is admittedly quiet and laid back: He needs time before feeling comfortable (and thriving) in new environments.
That proved to be the case at Florida, where he didn't break out until his fourth year in the program. Baker starred as a fifth-year senior, catching 60 passes for 920 yards and 10 touchdowns while helping the Gators win the national championship.
But despite good size and favorable bloodlines (his uncle is former NFL wide receiver Wes Chandler), Baker lasted until the seventh round of the 2007 Draft.
He caught just one pass in five preseason games last season, but he opened eyes after making the Steelers' practice squad. However, as Tomlin would be the first to say, making plays in practice is one thing; making them in games is quite another.
"He's taken giant steps, and I'm really proud of (how far) he's come," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "He's been doing great in the slot."
Baker said he hasn't missed an offseason practice or a conditioning session - he has added five pounds to his lanky frame -- and he has spent extra time watching film with wide receivers coach Randy Fichtner.
"I think I made a little progress, but I know I have a long way to go," Baker said. "I've got to keep getting better and make sure I understand what's going on because that way you play faster."