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 teams.”
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.”