Jason Baker has put his lost year behind him and he's ready to punt again. All he needs is a call.
Baker, a Fort Wayne native, kicked for 11 seasons in the NFL before being sidelined with a non-football injury last season. He was waived by the Carolina Panthers for salary cap reasons after the 2011 season, ending seven years with the team. He had a couple workouts with teams during the 2012 season, but nothing developed.
This year, he expects to be back on the field.
“My skills are as good as they have been, my strength is back, but I'm on the outside looking in,” Baker said Monday during a visit to Fort Wayne. “I'm going to prepare to have the best 12th year I can and be ready to go. When the right phone call comes, I'll be ready.”
Baker, 34, believes he can sell both his experience and success as a punter, and his resume as a place-kick holder to help attract teams. He had workouts with the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions last season, and expects other teams to show interest this time.
It's imperative to remain patient, however, because punters/holders usually fit lower on the priority scale for most teams.
Teams are more aggressive in pursuing other every-down type players during the offseason, Baker said.
“As long as Dwight Freeney is still a free agent, punters will still be free agents,” Baker said.
To ease his mind, Baker has vowed not to get into a daily analysis of team rosters and needs and instead leave the work on the ground to his agent.
Baker will keep following his daily punting routine in his adopted hometown of Charlotte, N.C. Baker grew up in Fort Wayne and played at Wayne High School and the University of Iowa.
Because he has a body of work, Baker knows teams will likely decide upon him without worrying how soon they add him to the roster.
“Being someone who you can plug in and go, they feel they can plug you in and go,” Baker said.
Baker works out daily with Carolina long snapper J.J. Jansen, since Jansen can't work out at the Panthers facility during this part of the offseason, due to the collective bargaining agreement.
There's a routine to being a punter, and Baker followed it all of last season, even though he wasn't on a roster. He prepared as if he were going through a game-week schedule, even picking out a team and imagining how he would prepare for their game, depending on what field they would be playing on. Sometimes, Baker said, people would think he was a “nut job” for the routine, but it was part of his process of staying connected and keeping his career alive.
In retrospect, he said he probably wasn't far enough along in his physical rehabilitation from injury to punt last season. Or at least not to punt to the standards he had established. Baker has 794 NFL punts for 33,914 yards (42.7 per punt).
“It's a fine line between being where you were and where you are, and you realize you have very little control,” Baker said. “You think when you're in here, 'they need me.' You don't realize, especially in the National Football League, the train will keep rolling whether you're on it or not. It doesn't matter who you are. Everyone will be an ex-player sometime.”
Baker isn't ready to be an ex-player yet. He still has some kick left in him.