Linebackers at Ohio State have a history of becoming on-campus legends, and emerging as NFL-ready talents by the time they decide to make the leap to the next level. More often than not, the biggest leaders on the defensive side of the ball come from this unit, and soon-to-be junior linebacker Jerome Baker could be just like the players who came before him.
From names like James Laurinaitis, Tom Cousineau, Chris Spielman and A.J. Hawk, Baker has some lofty expectations to live up to. Since coming into Columbus as a linebacker and a running back in high school, the Cleveland native has lived up to every expectation placed on him.
Totaling 83 tackles this season, Baker flashed his ability to get to the ball carrier, while also racking up 3.5 sacks and a pair of interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Although he made lots of plays by himself, he credited the mentorship of Raekwon McMillan and soon-to-be redshirt senior linebacker Chris Worley as an instrumental piece to his success.
“It’s very easy playing alongside Raekwon and Worley,” Baker said at OSU’s media day prior to the Fiesta Bowl. “Their ability alone is really a blessing. It’s made it easier on my confidence. They’re always telling me I can do it. They’ve believed in me from Day One. I’m just glad I can finally play alongside those guys and do what I love doing.”
However, Baker will not be playing alongside McMillan, who decided to forgo his senior season for the 2017 NFL Draft. The unquestioned leader of the defense last year, McMillan’s shoes will be hard to fill.
The competition for the lead role at linebacker will come down to Worley and Baker, with the advantage going to Worley since he will be in his final season of eligibility. However, McMillan spoke of Baker at media day, saying his play should be singled out.
“For a portion of the season, he was playing the best ball on the defense, I figure,” McMillan said. “Against Oklahoma, he was pivotal when it came to stopping Baker Mayfield and other guys like that.”
Worley is no slouch either, and seems like the most likely candidate for fulfilling the void left by McMillan. Worley has been around the program long enough that he should be able to fulfill the crazy process McMillan went through before the snap this year.
However, Baker’s output this season and the fact he was named as an honorable mention for All-Big Ten has put him close to being named as the leader on defense. That, paired with the praise from McMillan, makes Baker a name to watch for once again next year.
“He’s a baller, and he’ll definitely have a tree at Ohio State soon,” McMillan said.