After taking Ryan with the No. 3 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Falcons moved back into the first round to select Baker, a 6-foot-5, 312-pound left tackle from Southern California to protect Ryan's blindside. Baker missed half of his rookie season with a back injury before started 30 games over the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Baker's back issues flared up again last season and he'd finish the season in a reserve role as Will Svitek started at left tackle.
Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Baker's career is at a crossroads, writes D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"This is an important year for Sam, as we all know," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "I have confidence that Sam is going to come back and be a good left tackle for us.
"He physically looks good. He's been working hard in the offseason. His focus is to come back and win that left tackle job and continue to help us win games as he has many times over the last four seasons."
Though the Falcons coaching staff and front office has shown its support for Baker, they've also prepared for the future. Atlanta used its third round pick on Southern Mississippi's Lamar Holmes, a nasty blocker with 35-inch arms who could be a long-term option at left tackle. If Baker has another shaky year, particularly with injuryies, the Falcons can let him move on in free agency next offseason and go with Holmes. Baker may have a bit of a reprieve right now, though, as Holmes is out until training camp with a toe injury.