RICHMOND — The learning took place on every play, with Chris Baker getting blocked from this side and then the other. He got knocked to the ground once, then again. It wasn’t necessarily a bad day for Baker, but it did suggest how much he had to learn.
With Adam Carriker done for the year and Jarvis Jenkins suspended for the first four games, Baker has become a lot more important. The good news for the Redskins is that he’s athletic and versatile enough to play multiple positions. Baker played some defensive end in the past, but is playing it full time now. But with it being his first season, the adjustment could take time.
It’s not as if Baker has to start with veteran Kedric Golston on the roster. Golston isn’t flashy, but he’s a dependable run stopper who understands the defense and his responsibilities. But the Redskins like to rotate their ends, which means Baker could become a crucial backup early in the season. It also means a player such as veteran Phillip Merling now has a better opportunity.
“Whether they ask me to start, back up or be a rotational player the most important thing when I get out there is I’m productive,” Golston said, “and that I play at the same level as any other defensive lineman. This is my fourth year in this defense and I know the nuances of it. I know the things that stress it out and I know the things it’s good for.”
Merling, a second-round pick by Miami in 2008 now playing for his third team, suddenly finds himself with a good opportunity to make the roster. He made it clear he doesn’t want to talk about how Jenkins’s situation impacts his chances.
But there’s no doubt it helps him.
“I’m just trying to prove I can still play,” said Merling, who played in three games with Green Bay last season and was cut. “I’ve been in the league a while so it’s not like I can switch up overnight. I just have to do what I do and do it better. Right now I’m trying to find my way.
“I can rush the quarterback. I can bring energy in the pass-rush game.”
And rewrite a career that hasn’t unfolded the way he hoped
“My career ain’t picture perfect,” he said. “It’s not like I pictured it coming out of school being where I was drafted. Ups and downs. I’ve had good seasons, I’ve had bad seasons. I got an opportunity to play again. I’m still young; hopefully I got a few more years.”
Meanwhile, Baker is more of an unknown because of his inexperience playing end in the NFL. There will be a steep learning curve at times; Carriker went through one in his first season with Washington and Jenkins underwent his last season.
Going from nose to end means Baker has to get used to playing with more space around him. Also, at nose tackle he said he was responsible for reading one person. At end, for example, he’ll read the tackle but his responsibilities will change depending on that player’s action. That’s why his eyes will be on the tackle, but his right arm might be on the guard. If the tackle moves a certain way, then Baker would have to block the guard. That’s just one example of something he must adapt to at end.
Baker liked to get upfield at nose tackle and that will help in rush situations at end. However, he also must be careful not to get upfield too quickly in other schemes as he must occupy blockers and take lateral steps. Otherwise the linebackers become blocked and if he doesn’t make a play, then a big run through his gap is possible.
“You have to get used to seeing different blocking schemes,” Baker said. “There are little things you have to adjust to but the more reps you get the better off you can respond.”
Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at email@example.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.
Saturday’s second practice is at 3:20. Here’s our guide to camp, if you’re going. There is no practice on Sunday.
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