TAMPA – The Buccaneers were still high-fiving themselves for reeling in defensive tackle Chris “Swaggy’’ Baker in free agency this past March when Baker’s former team, the Redskins, let the world know why they were so willing to let a player of Baker’s caliber go in the first place.
According to a story penned by Mike Jones in the Washington Post, Baker was a big favorite among Redskins fans but a lot of Redskins coaches, team executives and even players were “lukewarm’’ on him because of what they perceived as “a poor work ethic.’’
Baker’s first season with the Bucs hasn’t even begun yet and we’re already beginning to see what they mean.
Thanks to HBO’s Hard Knocks, we know that Baker was often teased during training camp for what appears to be a strong dislike for practice, including by the team’s rookies during their rookie talent show.
In one skit mimicking a defensive line meeting, a player representing Baker and wearing a pillow under his No. 90 jersey is asked, “Baker, are you practicing today?” The answer, which drew raucous laughter from everyone but Baker by the way: “No coach. One rep a week.’’
There was also a segment when a player posted a top 10 list of things you won’t see at Bucs training camp. No. 1: “Chris Baker taking any more than three reps during practice.’’ Again, raucous laughter, this time from everyone, including Baker.
Of course, it’s not just the players who have noticed Baker’s lack of desire for practice. It appears Bucs coach Dirk Koetter has noticed it, too, because he seemed to hint at it at the end of the preseason when asked about Baker’s care-free personality.
“I believe in guys being loose, as long as they show up on Sunday and compete,’’ Koetter said. “And when we looked at Chris’ film from last year – I didn’t know much about his personality – but we saw a guy that was a good football player on Sundays.’’
A good football player on Sundays. Koetter clearly didn’t call Baker out for being a poor practice player, but you can see where he’s going there. Come Sundays afternoon – or Monday or Thursday nights – the Bucs are expecting big things from Baker. The good news is, he can probably deliver.
In the past two years, Baker has recorded 64.5 quarterback knockdowns and hurries and is one of just six NFL players with 100 or more tackles, nine or more sacks and five or more forced fumbles. The others are Khalil Mack, Von Miller, Carlos Dunlap, Melvin Ingram and Brandon Graham.
That’s elite company and if Baker can stay in it, the Bucs probably won’t mind one bit how many reps he takes in practice.