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Miami Dolphins

The Rookies: Jerome Baker

Travis Wingfield

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“He has a very strange ability and strange understanding of how to treat people for such a young person,” Benedictine head coach Joe Schaefer said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s a pat a kid on the back or get in his face, he can do both and that’s why people respect him because he does do both.”

Killing two birds with one stone, Miami added more speed between the lines and better character inside the locker room by drafting Jerome Baker. That article is from 2013, Baker’s Junior year of high school.

“Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you’re the leader,” Baker said. “I feel like that’s my job really. There is a lot of ways to lead. Lead by example. If I do a pretty good job on the field and work my hardest and give it all I have, people are going to watch me and follow me. I always want to make sure everyone around me is getting better. Leading is not just about age. It’s how hard you play and how hard you work.”

Going back to the Ohio State well, Miami reunites Baker with Raekwon McMillan. Come opening day, the pair will be 21 and 22-years old respectively. Hoping to spark the lofty level of play the two shared in 2016 (Baker’s 2016 87.7 PFF grade trumped his 2017 score), Miami injected athleticism and leadership into the linebacker room.

Even in a down year, Baker was among the nation’s best in tackle efficiency and pass rush productivity. For a player that often has his strength and capability to play downhill questioned, Baker ranked 37thin the nation in yards-per-tackle allowed.

Continuing the theme of acquiring athletic marvels, Baker’s Relative Athletic Scorecard boasts impressive physical traits (via Kent Lee Platte’s twitter @Mathbomb).

Miami’s 2017 defense was dreadful in multiple areas. Dead last in third-and-long defense, the Dolphins had to infuse the linebacker corps with speed and agility. Baker’s explosion and prowess as a nickel linebacker should earn him an immediate role on the 2018 Dolphins’ defense. Minimizing situations, like the one Miami showcased below, is imperative to a turnaround.

Holding the point of attack and disengaging from blocks are two of the regular knocks on the rookie ‘backer. In Miami’s wide-9 defense, the linebackers are asked to operate in space and free-flow to the football. With sideline-to-sideline range and tremendous closing speed, the scheme fit is obvious.

Perhaps above the athleticism and the remarkable character off the field, is Baker’s dedication to assignment-based football. A step further, when he and teammate Raekwon McMillan were on the field together in 2016, they fed off of each other’s selflessness and gap-integrity. On various occasions, Baker did the dirty work by honoring his lane and freeing up his comrades to make the play.

Masking negative traits is the job of the coaching staff. Asking Baker to take on second-level blocks against 300-pound hog mollies is a sure-fire way to reduce his overall effectiveness. In any scheme, there will be instances where a player is faced with a task he’s not suited to execute. A couple of clips here show his inability to get off a block or missing a tackle.

Despite a skill set qualified to be a pass-defending linebacker, he can get lost in zone coverage. It’s a lot to ask of a young linebacker, but reading keys in the run game while maintaining discipline to routes from the backside of the formation can cause problems.

Pigeonholing this player would be a mistake. There are certainly traits he exhibits superior to others, but he wore a lot of hats for the Buckeye defense. Whether it was taking the point in trips, lining up in the slot against a wide-receiver, showing blitz in the A-gap over the center, or playing a traditional WILL pre-snap alignment, Baker was everywhere.

Analyst Lance Zierlein states that Baker has some work to do before he’s a three-down player – or anything more than a sub-package ace.

Baker’s film from 2016 and the 2017 post-season suggests contrary to the blurb above. He’s an exceptionally gifted athlete with a keen sense for the fine details of the game. He’s going to make the players around him better and the working relationship he has with McMillian can only benefit this stop unit.

@WingfieldNFL (Find more Jerome Baker GIFs on my Twitter timeline)

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