Harbaugh brings out the best in two Hawks

RENTON — Doug Baldwin has a chip on his shoulder for every occasion.

So it should hardly come as a surprise that in four games against the San Francisco 49ers — who just happen to be coached by his former college coach, Jim Harbaugh — Baldwin has managed to record four of his seven career touchdowns.

Yes, there were 32 teams that passed on Baldwin in the 2011 draft, but only one of those teams was coached by someone who knew Baldwin so well, yet still decided he was not an NFL player. So maybe it was just a coincidence that, on Harbaugh’s birthday last year, Baldwin scored two touchdowns and Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, another Stanford alum, added another in a 42-13 drubbing of the 49ers.

Or maybe not.

“I don’t know what it is,” Baldwin said. “I just think the game plan happens to fall into my hands on that week.”

What that quote doesn’t show, however, is how long Baldwin paused when asked about playing well against the 49ers before flashing a telling grin, then eventually giving a politically correct answer.

And in a fun twist, after the Seahawks pummeled the 49ers on Harbaugh’s birthday last year, they host San Francisco this season on Pete Carroll’s birthday.

“Last year it was Harbaugh’s birthday, and I think we gave him a good gift,” Baldwin said. “This week it’s Pete Carroll’s birthday, so I hope we can give him a good gift as well.”

If Baldwin does have another big game, revenge will hardly be the biggest factor behind it. More than anything, his seven catches for 91 yards in Seattle’s opener prove he’s getting back to being the receiver he was in 2011 when he led the Seahawks in receiving yards and receptions as an undrafted rookie. Injuries limited him in training camp and the early part of last season, meaning he and Russell Wilson weren’t quite on the same page until late in the season. This year, it looks like Wilson has found his go-to third-down receiver.

“He’s very good at reading defenses,” Wilson said of Baldwin. “He thinks he’s the quarterback sometimes. Doug is just so intelligent. He’s a very smart kid, knows everything he’s trying to do and why he’s trying to get there. He’s just got a great feel. It’s almost like he is a point guard. You know, a point guard just knows where to go, knows where to move certain people and set up certain people to get open.”

So even if Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell promises Baldwin isn’t lobbying for extra passes thrown his way in an effort to spite Harbaugh — “I don’t think it matters to Doug who we’re playing each week,” Bevell said. “He’s got that chip on his shoulder every single week” — don’t be surprised if Baldwin comes up with another big game against his former coach.

And the same goes for Sherman, who at times conflicted with Harbaugh at Stanford, and who last year referred to his former coach as a “bully” after Harbaugh said he planned to contact the league about the physical play of Seattle’s cornerbacks.

“Sometimes, man, when a bully gets bullied, that’s how that happens,” Sherman said.

Sherman even asked Pete Carroll to try for another touchdown late in last year’s blowout to run up the score, according to an interview with Yahoo! Sports.

Sherman showed restraint when talking about the 49ers and Harbaugh on Thursday, though when asked about the two coaches’ contrasting styles, he admitted he prefers Carroll’s methods.

“I like Pete’s approach because it’s always positive,” Sherman said. “… No player loves to be dog cussed. It’s some hard coaching out there, but Pete does it in a way where nobody screams, nobody yells, everybody has a positive mindset. There’s always a positive in every game, win lose or draw. Pete tries to pull that out, he tries to pull a good message out of every game. Regardless of if you feel like you’ve played the worst game of your life, he’ll make you feel like you had a decent game. As a player you can’t help but love that.”

So if Baldwin and Sherman again play well against their former coach Sunday, it could just be a coincidence. Then again, maybe not.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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