Jerome Baker’s first opportunity to play with the Miami Dolphins’ first-team defense in a live game came with the sound of a familiar voice.
As he made his way to the huddle for the Dolphins’ second series against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday, Baker listened as middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan called out the assignments.
“It was like deja vu,” said Baker, the Dolphins’ third-round draft choice in April. “Just hearing him make the calls, [I thought] ‘just do what you do.’”
It worked for them before.
Baker and McMillan were teammates for two seasons at Ohio State in 2015 and 2016, a terrorizing linebacker duo in the middle of the Buckeyes’ top-10 defenses. They went 23-3 in their two years together in Columbus.
Two years since they last played together, they’re in South Florida with the goal of helping shore up a Dolphins defense that gave up an average of 24.6 points per game last year — the fourth-most in the league.
And even though McMillan is starting his second year with the Dolphins, he will feel in some ways like a rookie after sitting out all of last season after tearing the ACL in his right knee on his first preseason play last year.
“He looked me in the eyes and said, ‘This is my first time, too,’” Baker said. “We had it together. It was definitely a good feeling.”
McMillan recorded one tackle in his shortened return to the field.
And Baker left a solid impression for his first appearance at Hard Rock Stadium. The speedy 6-2, 215-pound linebacker recorded a team-high-tying five tackles — all coming in the first half.
“It was definitely a learning experience,” Baker said. “You see a difference between the ones and the twos. Overall, it was definitely a fun experience.”
Baker said he felt nerves early on as he ran onto the field. That’s common, considering playing in the NFL is a dream years in the making.
But once those nerves settled down and the action began, Baker said he felt confident on the field.
“There’s no preseason. This is an NFL game for me,” Baker said. “Just go out there and do what you do.
“Once the play starts, your instincts take over. If you’re prepared and know what you’re doing, you don’t have to think about it.”