Jets TE Chris Baker is itching to become a big part of the Jets offense. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
While many of his new teammates garnered daily accolades from the media throughout training camp, New York Jets TE Chris Baker quietly went about his business. Arguably one of the most impressive players during the rigorous summer workouts at Weeb Ewbank Hall, Baker outperformed starting TE Anthony Becht. Yet, Baker headed into the season as the second-string TE, accepting the role despite the sense he was on the brink of a breakout year.
Few could dispute with his sentiment. The third-year player led the TE position during the preseason in average yards per reception (13.8), recorded the only touchdown by a Jets’ TE and hauled in the longest catch (30 yards). Once the season rolled around, Baker continued to shine, hauling in 15 receptions for 152 yards and three touchdowns despite his limited role. Although embedded undeservingly in a backup role, life had been good for Baker.
Until the injury bug hit.
In Week 10 versus the Baltimore Ravens, Baker injured a metacarpal bone in his right hand and would miss the following week. While Baker was able to return in Week 12, he clearly was not the same player prior to the injury.
“It was frustrating…(the injury) really bothered me for about four weeks,” Baker said, shaking his head.
The injury had derailed Baker’s production as he has only recorded two receptions for 22 yards since being sidelined. It could not come at a worse time for the former Michigan State product as is scheduled to become a restricted free agent at the end of this season.
Despite the drop in production, the 25-yard old TE is confident he can return to form and be the long-term solution at the position for the Green & White.
“I know I can,” Baker said emphatically. “It just depends on if the Jets want me to be that (long-term) guy or not.”
At this point, the Jets have yet to present Baker with a new deal, but are expected to do so with the uncertain future surrounding Becht, who will hit the open market next spring.
Some critics argue that Baker is nothing more than a pass-receiving TE, who offers little in terms of blocking. Baker vehemently disputes that notion, requesting those who see fault in his game to review the game films.
(The critics) can just ask the coaches and they can look at the film,” said Baker in an edgy tone. “They can look at when I’m in the game when we run the ball. All (that criticism) is coming out of college, assuming that (I am soft as a run-blocker). But every time we run the ball, even in two TE (formation), (the play) is coming behind me.”
Unfortunately for Baker, his lofty numbers as a pass-catcher coming out of Michigan State largely overshadowed his blocking skills. The Jets saw so much potential in Baker that they invested their third-round draft choice on him in the 2002 NFL Draft. Baker was a four-year letterman with the Spartans, displaying great durability by making 47 consecutive starts. The kid who hailed originally from St. Albans, Queens and later moved to Michigan, set school career-records for a TE with 133 receptions for 1,705 yards (12.8 avg.) and 13 TDs. Only former NFL WRs Andre Rison (146) and Courtney Hawkins (138) had more receptions at Michigan State.
Baker admits removing his stigma has been difficult to overcome, but something he continues to work at each day.
“If people think I’m a pass receiver, that’s fine, (but) I have really dedicated myself to blocking,” the 6-3, 258 pound Baker said.
With Baker providing glimpses of promise, the Jets should feel compelled to lock up the TE to a long-term deal. As speculation circulates on the impending departure of TE Anthony Becht, Baker could provide a new dimension to an offensive attack that has been stymied by the TE position this season. Baker is looking forward to returning to his college form and providing the Jets with a dangerous threat at the position for the future.
“I want to work on my entire overall game. I want to get back to some of the things I was able to do in college as far as catching a lot of balls,” Baker said. “Not just catching five-yard passes, but catching the ball downfield and making big plays for the offense.”
Whether the Jets’ front office deems Baker the long-term solution or not remains to be seen. What is certain is that the TE position will be re-shuffled this offseason. Here’s hoping the Jets don’t overlook the talented Baker who appears ready to offer a return on the Jets investment.