The first game of Ryan Baker’s career – Appalachian State in 2008 -gave fans in Death Valley a pretty
good idea of what the Florida-native’s career at LSU would be like.
Baker earned a starting
spot on special teams, where he reeled off one highlight-hit after another. The
Blountstown High standout totaled four tackles – all on special teams – by
games end. By the close of his freshman campaign, Baker had recorded 16 tackles
– seven of which were solo stops.
“I don’t know how much of
a good player I really was, but I had the mentality that I needed, which was to
go out and make a play,” Baker said. “I wanted to make something happen each
time I got the opportunity, and I kept that same attitude with me each day.”
When the new defensive
staff arrived, the offseason marked a stretch run where Baker had to start
over. After a successful fall in 2008, the sophomore linebacker had to earn the
approval of an entire new group of coaches.
While the bump in the road
would seem worrisome to some, Baker took it all in stride. No matter the position
coach, Baker said that he remembered the one thing that head coach Les Miles
stated to him during his recruitment process: the best players will play.
“I had made some accomplishments
that I was happy about, but I was not done, so the new staff had plenty to see
from me,” Baker said. “I had to adjust to this new style of play, because I
could not keep my old pace. But I know that they were impressed. I went strong,
and I earned my spot.”
Now the second option
behind Perry Riley, Baker said that his game has seen drastic improvement under
first year defensive coordinator John Chavis.
“I am playing on the weak
side, and I really like the position,” he said. “The WILL linebacker has the
opportunity to become a real playmaker on the defense, and I want to be the man
to come in and make those plays. Coach Chavis brings an attacking style that I
have not seen before, and he really knows how to get after people.
“[Chavis] told me that I
fit well into his look, so I am smiling.”
Beginning with Washington
on Saturday, Baker’s words will be put to the test.
“I think I have come a
long way, and I have gotten the playbook and everything down for the most
part,” Baker said. “I come off the edge a lot, so I am looking forward to that.
I also have to drop back and play a lot of coverage, but Harry [Coleman] and
Kelvin [Sheppard] will take on the tight ends and the run.
“I just clean things up,”
he continued. “I like where I am at, because I am truly confident in being the
consistent second guy. Everyone wants to play, but Perry is the best we have.
For now, I am just learning from him. He stresses footwork and athleticism a
lot, but we work on all kinds of things together.”
Up to 228 from 207 pounds
last season, Baker said that he is primed to move away from being recognized
for his special team’s efforts alone.
“I want to be a household
name,” he said. “I want to bring my special teams style of play to the defense;
to be known as a big hitter on the defensive side just as well as special
Baker said that the key
has been Chavis, whose offseason player rotation coupled with the new playbook
has left the unit more confident than ever.
“We expect really big
things, and we hope to deliver starting next weekend,” Baker said. “With
Harry’s speed, we have a good blend of what coach really wants to do with his
defense. It is a totally new look; with good athletes that can both hit and
run. You can’t go wrong with that.”