RICHMOND — His teammates call him “Swaggy.”
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett calls him “Big Wiggle.”
Redskins fans got a glimpse of the spirit behind the name yesterday at training camp, where the 6-2, 340-pound Chris Baker erupted in a dance upon getting his mitts on quarterback Robert Griffin III — a sure-fire sack, had it been a game rather than a drill.
“It felt great,” said Baker, 26, the massive lineman whose drive and passion for football have lifted him from competitive afterthought to potential starting left defensive end for the 2014 Redskins. “We normally can’t touch him in practice, but I got a little touch on him. Anytime a big man can show his speed and run RGIII, it’s pretty impressive. So it felt good.”
A Connecticut native, Baker didn’t shift from basketball to football until his junior year of high school. But his physical gifts were so compelling — a rare blend of size, power, speed and agility — that he earned a scholarship to Penn State, later transferring to Hampton.
He left school early, only to go undrafted. And for the next three years, he willed his way onto practice squads and into the occasional NFL game.
Signed by the Redskins in 2011, Baker worked his way into Haslett’s rotation, filling in as a starter for the final three games of last season. His value was recognized with a three-year contract, signed in February, worth $12 million.
“You just got to work hard every day,” Baker said of his battle for a place on an NFL team. “You can’t take any days off. Every day is an important day, so you just got to continue to get better and better each day.”
Baker said that this offseason he has picked up some pass-rush moves from free agent Jason Hatcher, the Pro Bowler who had 11 sacks last season for Dallas and is expected to start at right defensive end once he recovers from knee surgery he had in June.
From Haslett’s perspective, Baker’s biggest gain has been his maturation.
“He has grown up,” Haslett said. “Athletic-wise there are not too many guys like him that are 340 pounds that can run, are athletic. He has all that stuff. It’s more upstairs with him. He had grown every year I’ve seen him.”
As for Baker’s shortcomings?
“He dances too much in between plays,” Haslett said with a laugh. “Anytime a guy loves to play the game and likes being out there, we like to have those guys out there.”
Have a Redskins question? Send an e-mail to email@example.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.
Washington’s second practice on Day 3 begins at 4:10 p.m. in Richmond. Here’s our camp guide.
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