Lack of speed triggered Baker's draft-day free fall

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Last weekend's draft was deepest in wide receivers, so that is where the Steelers went -- deep into the draft before they picked one.

But isn't Dallas Baker of Florida kind of interesting? The Steelers selected him in the seventh round of the seven-round draft, No. 227 overall. Those usually are the players first out in training camp cuts, until someone like a Brett Keisel comes along on the seventh round and reminds everyone that those draft picks should not be kissed off -- even if one of them is named after one of their most-hated Super Bowl rivals.

Yes, Dallas Baker was named after the Dallas Cowboys.

"My dad loved the Dallas Cowboys," Baker said moments after the Steelers made him their final draft choice Sunday. "Most of my family members were Cowboys fans. But I would say maybe 20, 30 minutes ago, all that changed."

Good thing family members weren't big New England fans.

The Steelers can use another wide receiver on their roster, and Baker should make a serious play for that spot. He already is among their biggest at 6 feet 3, 206 pounds, and his college resume is outstanding. He led the national champion Gators with 920 yards receiving on 60 catches and scored 10 touchdowns last season.

He ranked second on the team as a junior with 52 receptions.

Big-time production at a big-time school with a big-time frame -- what's not to like? His speed and quickness. He ran a 4.6 at Florida's pro day after running a 4.53 at the combine. Scouts also questioned his desire to go after the ball in a crowd. Perhaps there never were crowds around him because he is ninth on Florida's list with 21 career touchdown catches -- Dallas Baker, the touchdown maker -- among his 151 receptions and 2,236 yards.

"One thing we really liked about Dallas was his touchdown productivity and his size," said Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations. "We have a pretty good receiving group, but it's not the biggest group. Sometimes, you'd just like to have another big receiver to go along with the other guys -- maybe as a red-zone guy."

The Steelers already have one of those in 6-5 Heath Miller and drafted another on the third round in 6-7 Matt Spaeth, but there is room on the roster if Baker shows them something from now until September.

Four roster spots at wide receiver are locked up by Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Cedrick Wilson and Nate Washington (who made the team, by the way, as an undrafted free agent).

The Steelers kept six on the roster last year, including rookie Willie Reid and special-teamer Sean Morey. Reid is back, Morey is not. They could keep six again, although that sixth spot might be used to keep three tight ends instead. predicted Baker would go in the fourth or fifth round.

"I thought I would have gone early on," Baker said. "But, really, I was just looking at it as a blessing and an opportunity. I mean, who wouldn't want to play football for a living? It's something I love to do, so to have an opportunity to play it for a living, I'm just going to take it and run with it."

It's up to him. There will be enough crowds at training camp and in five preseason games for him to prove he is willing to go after the ball knowing he'll take a hit, plenty of time to show he can run precise routes. The pros covet speed, but size and an ability to catch a football can go a long way, too.

That's what uncle Wes Chandler told him, and he's a former NFL receiver now Cleveland Browns receivers coach.

Chandler, Baker said, told him, "Whatever team takes you, just make sure you go in there and you give 110 percent -- and that's on special teams or playing wide receiver or whatever. Just go in there and take advantage of that opportunity."

But then, Chandler's Browns did not draft his nephew.

"He can't take me just because he's my uncle," Baker said. "It's all about trying to win a Super Bowl ... I'm trying to help the Steelers get to the Super Bowl the same way I helped the Gators make it to the national championship."

Phil Coale, Associated Press
Dallas Baker led the champion Gators with 920 yards receiving on 60 catches and scored 10 touchdowns last season.
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