The Washington Redskins’ entire front seven returns for a second consecutive season, but players are battling for spots in the defensive line rotation. Making a strong case for himself is third-year nose tackle Chris Baker.

A late-preseason addition last season, Baker spent all of last season on Washington’s practice squad. The team finally activated him on Dec. 7, but hours later, Baker tore a quad, had to have surgery and went on injured reserve. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan revealed Wednesday that Baker suffered the injury trying to dunk a basketball prior to one of the team’s indoor practices at a nearby gym.

Baker described the development as crushing. But it served as motivation as well.

“It fueled me a lot,” Baker said

In addition to working out twice a day with Redskins strength coach Ray Wright, Baker said he changed his diet as well. As a result, the 6-foot-2 former Hampton University standout dropped his weight from 335 pounds to 323.

“I feel like my endurance is up and now I can be explosive and a lot quicker,” said Baker, who previously had brief stints with Denver and Miami, appearing in two games in two years. “I feel a lot more confident having been in the defense the whole year. I worked hard the whole offseason to prepare myself for right now. All the hard work is paying off.”

The increased explosiveness has been evident as Baker, along with 2011 second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins, has been one of the most active young defensive linemen in camp.

In one-on-one drills, Baker is winning battles with starters and reserves alike. During 11-on-11 portions of practice, he has been disruptive as well. He is battling second-year pro Chris Neild for playing time behind Barry Cofield.

“I think he’s really maturing and learning the defense,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “He obviously came in at the end of training camp last year, so he didn’t really have the full offseason to learn the scheme and position. I think he’s doing a great job. He’s doing some things that really impresses us.”

Said Shanahan, Baker is “in excellent football shape. You know he’s dedicated and wants to play. I’ve seen some tremendous strides out of Chris and he’s got a big upside. … He’s played defensive end and nose tackle. With his size and quickness, he’s got the chance to play both, and he’s been working on both those positions over the last couple days.”

Baker said he doesn’t really care where he lines up. He just wants to get on the field and help the Redskins.

“I just want to be able to be a contributor,” Baker said. “You always strive to be a starter, but whatever way I can contribute, I’ll embrace it.”

More Redskins coverage:

Kentwan Balmer still AWOL

Safeties seek redemption