By Tarik El-Bashir
When training camp began three weeks ago, Chris Baker was the Redskins’ third string nose tackle.
Now he’s the backup – and he has a chance to get some substantial playing time for the first time in his three-year NFL career.
“This is a big opportunity for me to step up and be the player I know I can be,” Baker said Wednesday. “I hate to see Chris go down, but when one man goes down another man has to step up.”
Baker was referring to Chris Neild, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during Monday. On Wednesday, Baker backed up Barry Cofield in practice.
Although a few players, including Jarvis Jenkins, are able to line up at nose tackle, Shanahan hinted that it’s Baker’s job to lose. Delvin Johnson, who is also listed as a nose tackle, appears to be a long shot to make the 53-man roster.
“When you get a guy that goes down, Chris has more of an opportunity to show us what he can do,” Shanahan said. “And hopefully he takes advantage of that opportunity.”
Baker said he’s spent the past 10 months preparing for the challenge.
The 24-year-old out of Hampton spent the first three months of last season on the Redskins’ practice squad. He was activated on Dec. 7, but only a few hours later, tore a quadriceps muscle and finished the season on injured reserve.
Baker, who makes his home in Northern Virginia, spent the entire offseason working out at LA Fitness in Leesburg with Jenkins, who was rehabbing a surgically repaired knee. Their rigorous regimen included high repetitions with light free weights and swimming.
The goal of the carefully crafted workouts was increased endurance. And that figures to help Baker’s cause because defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has said he hopes to play Cofield a little less – and the backup a little more – in an effort to keep Cofield fresher.
“He’s probably in the best shape he’s been in,” Shanahan said of Baker, who was 350 when he arrived in Washington and now is listed at 6 foot 2, 333-pounds. “He’s really looked impressive and hopefully he can keep on doing that in the preseason games.”