Baldwin emerging as top WR with Chiefs

| Tuesday, May 29, 2012, 11:26 p.m.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jonathan Baldwin established a reputation for making the near-impossible catch last year with an around-the-defender grab of a pass against the Denver Broncos.

He solidified it at the Chiefs' practice Tuesday, when he made a one-handed diving grab of a Matt Cassel pass for a touchdown over cornerback Stanford Routt. The former Pitt standout's ability to go up and get a pass has prompted Cassel and other Chiefs quarterbacks to try throws to Baldwin in one-on-one coverage that they might not make to other receivers.

By now, they're aware the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Aliquippa product has a distinct size advantage over most cornerbacks and will win most jump-ball opportunities.

“He's a guy that likes to go up and compete,” Cassel said, “and there's not a lot of corners in the league that can go up vertically with him.

“Guys like that, you have to give them an opportunity to make a play. He's such a big target, and he's so physical that you just kind of have to put it in the vicinity and try not to overthrow him. Just give him an opportunity to go up and outbattle somebody for the ball.”

In this case, that somebody was Routt, who, at 6-foot-1, is tall for a cornerback. But he was no match for Baldwin on this particular play.

Routt, left alone with Baldwin down the sideline, wrestled with the bigger receiver as the ball was on its way.

In a game, Routt probably would have been called for pass interference. He wound up pinning one of Baldwin's arms against his body as the receiver reached for the pass.

Routt's biggest mistake was in not pinning both of Baldwin's arms. Baldwin made the catch one-handed, and all Routt could do afterward was shake his head.

“It happens,” Routt said. “I'm not worried about it. It's football. Sometimes you make the play, and sometimes he makes the play.”

The catch came with just seconds remaining in a 2-minute drill near the end of practice and was just the kind of thing the Chiefs envisioned when they made Baldwin their first-round draft pick last year.

“It was a 2-minute situation, and the coach is always talking about making plays,” Baldwin said. “I just had to step up and make a play.

“As receivers, we always want to go and make the play. I just want to make every play I possibly can. I was fortunate to make the play.”

Count Cassel among the impressed.

“The one against Denver was pretty impressive last year,” Cassel said. “But it was a great catch. Those are the kind of plays you need, especially in a 2-minute drill.”

In addition to his reception against the Broncos, which was erased by a penalty not involving Baldwin, the Chiefs got a taste of his knack for the big catch in a Monday night win over the San Diego Chargers. Baldwin went over cornerback Marcus Gilchrist to catch a 39-yard touchdown pass.

Otherwise, the Chiefs mostly failed last season to use Baldwin to their advantage. That was his only touchdown as a rookie and the longest play among his 21 receptions.

But plays like the one in practice Tuesday suggest the Chiefs will try harder to find ways to get Baldwin matched up in single coverage.

“When you have a guy like Jon, there's a bigger window,” reserve quarterback Ricky Stanzi said. “He's a big body, and he has great hands. You always want to put the ball right on him, but you do have a better chance if you do miss for him to come up and make a play. He can make your mistakes look really good.”

Routt now knows that as well as anyone. While with the Raiders last season, he played twice against Baldwin and the Chiefs. But Baldwin had just two catches against Oakland, the longest going for 14 yards.

“It's the same thing when you have to defend any tall receiver,” Routt said. “Obviously, (be aware of) the jump ball. Obviously, you've got to be a little more physical with him because he's a bigger target.

“He uses his body pretty good. On that catch, he did a pretty good job. I know last year, he was a rookie and he was young. But you can tell he's definitely taken some strides since last year.”

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