Jerome Baker is a freak athlete.
That's no secret. The Buckeye linebacker stands at 6-2, weighs in at 225 lbs. and was clocked at a 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash – the team's eighth-fastest time. To put that in perspective, Baker is far bigger than any skill player on the roster, but is faster than all but seven of them.
Baker is such a tremendous athlete, national college football analyst Bruce Feldman ranked him No. 17 on his "Freaks List" of college football's top athletes.
"Baker has ridiculous measurables,” Ohio State strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti told Feldman in the article. “He’s tough and he's Ryan Shazier-like if not faster. He can fly. He was 200 [pounds when he arrived at Ohio State]. He's now 223. Darron Lee is longer and more of a strider. Jerome is made for the walk-out [linebacker position]."
Baker put that raw athleticism on display in his debut season as a starter, finishing with 83 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions. But despite those eye-popping numbers, there was a lot of room for improvement, namely in the mental aspect of his game.
"He’s in a whole different place now. He's got one of the highest football IQs that I’ve been around."– Bill Davis on Jerome Baker
Both Baker and linebackers coach Bill Davis said there were times last year when the first-year starter was not sure of his presnap positioning.
"He wasn’t sure, so he went right in between the two alignments you’re supposed to have," linebackers coach Bill Davis said. "He said ‘Well, I was kind of over there, Coach, I was kind of over there.’"
Baker said he used his speed and athleticism to compensate for the poor positioning, but he knows that will only hurt him in the long run.
"The reason you came here is your instincts, that’s why they recruit you. But it’s not going to take you that far," Baker said. "In the long run, it’s going to hurt you. So even with Keandre [Jones], I try to tell him, ‘I know we’re fast. That’s the one thing we have. We’re not going to be fast forever.’ If you play and you don’t adjust it now, later on it’s going to hurt you."
Thankfully for the Buckeyes, Davis said Baker has already made great strides in that part of his game.
"He’s in a whole different place now," Davis said. "He's got one of the highest football IQs that I’ve been around. You tell him once, he gets it, he understands it."
That's bad news for Big Ten offenses, because if Baker put up those numbers and made those plays without a full understanding of his role in the defense, there's really no telling what he could do this season. But whatever it is, Baker hopes it will help bring his team back to the college football playoff to avenge what happened last season.
"I think that Clemson loss, it hurt me to the core, because I know I could have played better, and that’s my main goal, just to get back there," Baker said. "I just want to win a national championship."