Baker was one of general manager Thomas Dimitroff's top priorities of the current offseason, which might have been a far fetched thought at the end of the 2011 season, when Baker was seen by fans as a "bust" from an otherwise outstanding 2008 draft class.
Baker had gone through three back surgeries and still wasn't feeling well when he turned to Stark Training, a strength and conditioning fitness center in Irvine, CA, to find relief after the 2011 season.
"He came to us and was like, look, every strength coach wants me to big and strong, and that's great, but I'm in so much pain," Baker's personal trainer at Stark, Brad Davidson, said.
Davidson has worked with Baker for the past two offseasons. He said the goal last year was to get him out of pain, while this offseason focused on getting him as strong and as powerful as possible.
"The program was always something I wanted to do," Baker said. "I felt great. I felt like I could move again. For the longest time I just felt wound up, and I was telling my body to do something and it just wouldn't really respond. I finally was able to find my athleticism again."
Obviously Dimitroff saw the change in the durability and potential of Baker. Afterall, the left tackle position is the most important along the offensive line.
Just two seasons ago, fans wanted Baker out of Atlanta. Now, he's being trusted by the organization to protect quarterback Matt Ryan, who should become one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the league when he gets a new deal of his own this coming offseason.
"It feels great," Baker said about the team's faith in him. "The leadership over there is so great. Just to be a part of it is outstanding. Everybody knows about the potential and type of leader Matt is, and so to be assigned to protect him, I take a lot of pride in that and obviously it just makes me want to work that much harder."
Davidson can vouch for that testament.
"If the athlete doesn't want it, it's not going to happen, but that guy wanted it more than anything," Davidson said. "He loves Atlanta, he loves the city, he loves the team. He wanted to turn it around to continue to play for that team."
Davidson isn't trying to take much credit, either.
"We brought really good stuff to the table to help him, but that, combined with Sam's drive and want to succeed and excel for Atlanta was what really created a combination of positive effects, in my opinion."
Despite Davidson's "aw shucks" reaction, it's pretty clear that Baker has turned a corner in terms of being able to withstand and make an impact on the Falcons offensive line. Falcons fans can be assured that the Baker they saw in 2012 wasn't a fluke. In fact, the 2013 version of Sam Baker should be even better.
Here's a few other quotes from Baker.
B/R: You played with Tyson Clabo for the past five seasons. Were you surprised with his release?
Baker: I was kind of shocked. It's tough for me because I'm pretty close with him. You know, Tyson is an outstanding player, outstanding leader, so I know he's going to end up somewhere and do really well."
B/R: How are some of the younger guys like Lamar Holmes and Mike Johnson going to fit it in Clabo's absence?
Baker: I've been around Mike more than Lamar, just because Lamar was kind of new to everything last year. Mike has a really good work ethic. He came from a big program, and so he understood pretty quick what the NFL entails, and obviously Lamar is a really good athlete."
B/R: How excited are you to have the opportunity to block for Steven Jackson this fall?
Baker: It's going to really help boost our running game a lot, and our screen game too because he can catch really well. I think it's going to be exciting with just how it's going to add a different dimension to our offense.
B/R: Newly acquired defensive end Osi Umenyiora said this is the most talented team he's seen. Do you have any comments on that?
Baker: You know, that's great to hear, but I'm sure there's been other talented teams that have gone on to not win championships, so I think for us it all starts coming up and it's just more about the work we need to put in.
All quotes in story were obtained by columnist.
Mike Foster is an Atlanta Falcons Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Mike on Twitter!
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