Miami Dolphins

How a burned-out Jerome Baker saved his football career before it truly began

Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.

Jerome Baker did and, as a result, it might have saved his football career before it truly even began.

Baker, a top-50 recruit out of Cleveland, had serious second thoughts about the whole college thing early in his time at Ohio State.

“Freshman year, it was hell for me,” Baker said recently. “Granted, I had [Raekwon McMillan] in front of me. I had [Darron] Lee in front of me. I had Joshua Perry in front of me. I had these guys that, there’s no way you’re going to play over them as a freshman. And then you throw in school, tutoring.”

He was tired of everything — football, class, tutoring — and was so stressed, he actually broke down in his academic advisor’s office.

“He was like, ‘You done? You got it out? This is how [I] can help,’” Baker continued. “That’s when I understood — I never asked for help. Nobody can really help if you never ask. He made me understand, it’s OK to ask for help. Everybody needs help. Since that day I really changed my whole life.”

Baker asks for help all the time now — for tips on where to live, how to work out and, most importantly, how to be the best linebacker he can be for the Dolphins.

How good can he be? Really good, Dolphins coaches think. Like centerpiece of the defense good.

On a team with no true pass rush, Baker could end up being the team’s leading sacker. Or he could lead the team in tackles. Maybe even interceptions.

Or perhaps sacks one game, tackles the next and picks the one after that.

He’s precisely the type of do-it-all defender that should thrive in coach Brian Flores’ position-less scheme.

“He’s definitely emerging as a leader,” Dolphins linebackers coach Rob Leonard said during training camp. “He has all of the physical tools — cover, blitz, he can run, he’s physical. He’s starting to really believe all the things that we saw when we first got here, so he’s really emerging. His personality is starting to show, which are all great things to see as we’re building a team, essentially. He’s in a key spot for us, so that’s really nice to see.”

Baker has long shown a knack for making the big play.

His best hit?

That came in his junior year college against Nebraska, when he identified and attacked a bubble screen, hitting Mikale Wilbon so hard, Wilbon’s mouthpiece went flying.

His signature play?

That was against the Jets in 2018: His pick-six of Sam Darnold was not only the game’s lone touchdown, it was the deciding play.

But all that might just be a prelude of what’s in store in Year 2.

“For me, it’s just got out there and do what I love,” he said. “All the different, ‘He’s going to do this/we expect him to do that.’ I don’t really care. I just want to go out there and win games and have fun. It’s funny, people always bring up sacks. I couldn’t tell you the number of sacks I had last year.”

Baker insists he can “literally play any position, and that’s the whole thing” in Flores’ system.

“And that’s what makes it so cool, and that’s kind of been my whole life,” he said. “If you go back to my years in high school, I played linebacker, I played running back, I played receiver, I played quarterback. So here, I might not be able to play offense, but I can play a little bit of safety vibe. I can play a little bit of D-line kind of vibe. I’m kind of just grateful. It’s funny how life can go full circle.”

And if he ever gets stuck, he knows the helpful answer is just the right question away.