Drew Barker critiques his play
Maybe memos made it quite clear that the players were supposed to wear their blue shirts that day.
Didn’t matter to Dorian Baker.
The wide receiver decided he was all about wearing white.
Coaches would say to be in meetings before 1 p.m., but Baker decided 1:02 was close enough.
He was on Dorian time.
For the past two seasons, one of Kentucky’s top offensive weapons was locked in a battle between being a boy and being a man.
His numbers on the field certainly screamed man: a team-best 55 catches last season for 608 yards. Nearly half of his grabs led to first downs.
But his actions off the field screamed toddler.
Then Baker had a realization.
“I can’t fake it like I’m a grown man on the field and then be so childish off the field,” he said last week. “It was time to grow up.”
It’s hard to know if this is a temporary growth spurt or something that has become a permanent thing for the 6-foot-3 wide receiver from Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
“I was being a kid; the childish way was my way,” he said. “I realized I can’t do things my way. There’s repercussions to that.”
His head coach hopes that these are baby steps in the right direction.
“I have, but it’s early,” Coach Mark Stoops responded when asked if he’s seen Baker’s new-found maturity. “I’ve seen him very serious, very serious in the meetings and out here, not playing around too much.”
For Baker, it’s been more about show than tell. He tries to arrive at meetings 15 or 20 minutes early now. He tries to follow instructions more closely.
“It can’t be about talking; it has to be about doing,” he said. “I just want to be more of a doer and not a talker.”
As Stoops said, it’s still early in a long season, but teammates and coaches have seen a change in Baker.
“He’s done a great job of being more about the team and focusing on his role,” said longtime friend and starting quarterback Drew Barker, who has gone through his own maturation process. “Coach always says ‘know your role.’ He’s done a great job of blocking, running to the ball after plays even if it’s not thrown to him.”
Several times early in camp, including in Saturday’s scrimmage, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran bragged about big-time Baker plays. There was one in the back of the end zone. There was another key play at Tuesday’s practice, too.
There have been some inconsistencies on the field during camp, but Gran didn’t make them sound like they were born from a lack of effort.
“He’s playing faster than he’s ever played,” Gran said. “He’s trying to play more physical than he’s ever played. And you get banged up out there and you’ve gotta fight through it. He’s gotta get through the whole camp.
“I’m looking for him to finish the camp and getting into the season so we can count on him. But right now, boy, he’s done a good job.”
In fact, Baker’s quarterback already sees a changed player on the field this month. When the junior drops a pass, he doesn’t get as upset. He lets it go now, which frees him up to make his next catch, Barker said.
“I just like where Dorian’s head’s at for sure,” Barker said. “He’s doing a lot of great things; he’s practicing as hard as I’ve ever seen him practice.”
Wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas doesn’t want to say that Baker has grown up, but he says without hesitation: “Dorian is growing.”
The Baker he sees on the practice field is not the Baker of old, the one who wasn’t so sure the rules applied to him.
“I heard the stories before I got here,” UK’s new wide receivers coach said. “And the one thing I wanted him to work on (is) just being a better person on and off the field, being on time for things, making sure you’re doing the right things. ...
“I always say if I can get you to be a better man, I know you’ll be a better football player because those go hand in hand. He’s getting there on both.”
Running back progress report
Of the freshmen running backs, Benny Snell is “really trying to make a move,” and seems to fully understand the playbook. A.J. Rose is still learning, but “talent-wise I’m really excited about him,” assessed Gran after practice on Tuesday.
▪ Boom Williams, who has been held out of some contact after having offseason elbow surgery, has held up well in drills, Gran said. “He’s getting whacked around. He’s in blitz drill now, everything. We’re just moving forward each day as it goes, and Coach Stoops makes the decision on where we’re going to go with the next step.”
▪ As for Sihiem King, the sophomore who missed the early part of camp after a death in the family, Gran said he’s back to impressing like he did in the spring. “I was a little nervous in the beginning, but he came back and he was sluggish, didn’t like where he was at. I like where he’s at right now.”
Southern Miss at Kentucky
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 3
UK’s top receivers
Kentucky players with 10 or more catches last season:
Dorian Baker: 55
Garrett Johnson: 46
Jeff Badet: 29
Blake Bone: 20
C.J. Conrad: 15
Stanley Williams: 13
Ryan Timmons: 12
Mikel Horton: 10