Jonathan Daniel - Getty Images
How the most reviled lineman in Atlanta has turned it around.
It's fair to say that Sam Baker was not an especially popular man in Atlanta over the last four years.
A first round draft pick in 2008, Baker has spent the previous four seasons hurt, average or just plain disappointing. As the team's left tackle and the man trusted to protect Matt Ryan's blind spot, that was a very real problem, one that cost the Falcons points and (arguably) games. The invective flowed like a river from fans and analysts alike.
A funny thing happened on the way to irrelevance, however: Baker really did come into 2012 healthy and playing well, as the coaching staff has promised. Through three games, Sam Baker has kept Matt Ryan clean, he's blocking with power in a struggling ground game and he's been as good as he's ever been. If he keeps this pace up, the Falcons will be richly rewarded for sticking by him even when it was unpopular.
One of the things we lose track of as fans is how what we say and do impacts the players. I very much doubt that Sam Baker spent a lot of time on The Falcoholic, but it could not have been lost on him that people ran the gamut from thinking he was a lousy left tackle to outright hating his guts. For a guy who admits he wears his emotions on his sleeves, that has to bee deeply wounding. Sometimes money and fame aren't the salves we think they are.
So while it's only three games, I do think we just might be seeing Baker turning a corner at long last. For a better glimpse into his motivation and why this season might be different, you should really read Pat Yasinska's fantastic article on ESPN. It shades in Baker beyond what we know about him on the field.
Let's talk Baker.