Dolphins rookie LB Jerome Baker says you won’t think he’s small once he hits you

Jerome Baker will make a run at claiming a starting linebacker job. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — Jerome Baker’s heard it his whole life. Even when he was dominating youth leagues and high school football, everyone kept telling him he was too small.

And at every turn, he’s quieted those concerns. Ohio State and Florida went to battle trying to recruit him, and his time with the Buckeyes was impressive enough that the Dolphins took him in the third round of the draft with the thought that he could be a long-term answer at linebacker.

[Photos: Miami Dolphins rookies report to minicamp]

They felt good about what he can do at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds with a 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash, and Baker plans to show people once again that there’s nothing small about the way he plays.

“If you ask anybody that plays against me, they don’t mention my size at all,” he said. “Guys say it, but once I actually play against you, you really don’t even notice how small or big I am. It’s all good.”

Baker’s most appealing attribute is his ability in coverage, which would help the Dolphins shore up a deficiency that hurt them last year. He had 72 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three pass breakups for Ohio State last season.

Miami goes into the season with Raekwon McMillan, another Buckeye, returning at middle linebacker and Kiko Alonso a certain starter on the outside. Baker is competing for role against a group that includes Mike Hull, Chase Allen, Stephone Anthony and seventh-rounder Quentin Poling.

All of the team’s linebackers are taller and bigger than Baker except for Hull (6-foot, 232 pounds) and Poling (6-foot, 235 pounds).

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Meet the Miami Dolphins LB from Gomer (really, Gomer, Ohio) who piles on the laughs

Dolphins linebacker Quentin Poling uses his hands to essentially draw a road map of his tiny hometown Friday in Davie. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — The most entertaining player on the Dolphins might be a guy you’ve probably never heard of, from a town you’ve definitely never heard of, but with stories you have to get a load of.

Quentin Poling’s the name. Linebacker who played at Ohio. Drafted by the Dolphins in the seventh round, 227th overall.

Enough with the boring stuff.

Poling was having his introductory media session in Davie on Friday when someone brought up his hometown in Ohio, and what followed would have set records for wackiness if there were ways to quantify it.

Gomer. That’s truly his hometown’s name. Population: 102, although technically it plummeted to 101 Gomerites when one of its most famous connections moved to South Florida. At least it seemed logical to assume a professional football player coming out of Gomer had to have achieved celebrity status there.

[Photos: Miami Dolphins rookies report to minicamp]

“Probably a third of that population doesn’t even know that I came from there or who I am,” Poling said, proceeding to make a remarkably convincing argument that he is a nobody back home.

The guy who once struck out Babe Ruth? Everybody in Gomer knows who Ed Sandy is, Poling insisted. There are, however, a few problems with A-listing Sandy. First, he’s dead. Second, the Babe Ruth thing never happened. Third, it overlooks the Hank Aaron and Roger Maris connections Sandy actually did have (they played on an all-star team together).

“He’s like The Man,” Poling nonetheless said. “I guess I don’t know if I’ll be able to dethrone that. Maybe if I strip-sack Brady a couple of times, I might.”

Unconvinced, the Daily Dolphin put in a call to Uncle Al’s Pizza, where the man answering the phone swore he never heard of Quentin Poling.

He also never heard of Gomer, Ohio.

This, despite an internet search indicating Uncle Al’s is the closest thing to a happening place in Gomer.

“It’s a classic town set up with a T,” Poling said, holding his hands in the shape of a T that’s as good a road map of Gomer as you’re going to get. “Two roads,” Poling said as he mapped his celebrity penetration level. “This road, probably pretty good. Well known. This road … (he’s a nobody).”

Q: “They do have television there, right?”

A: “Most houses.”

Q: “So why don’t you have crossover appeal?”

A: “I don’t know. All my friends live on this road,” he said, waving one hand to represent either Lincoln Highway or Gomer Road.

Q: “If Dan Marino went into your town, would everybody know who he is?”

A: “No.”

Q: “So it’s OK that more people know you in that town than Dan Marino?”

A: “Probably not. There’s like 15 or 20 that I don’t think you’re quite going to reach.” 

You’d think a two-road town would be simple to navigate. So wrong. In 1939, Admiral Byrd was taking his snow cruiser to Antarctica when he wrecked it, “drawing large crowds and putting Gomer in the national spotlight,” according to a historical marker in the town. It took three days to repair the cruiser, during which time the only logical thing to do was sell hot dogs to gawkers. So they did.

Like Byrd, Poling eventually made it out of Gomer. He chalked up 374 tackles and 18.5 sacks in four years at Ohio. The team even reached the Bahamas Bowl, which included a “swim with the dolphins” event. This explains the prophetic photo he posted on social media of him kissing an actual dolphin before the Miami Dolphins showed him love in the draft.

“The trainer was making us each give the dolphin a kiss on the head and give it a fish,” Poling said. “He told two to three guys prior that we could. He was like, ‘You can kiss the dolphin.’ And they’re like, ‘No way. No way.’ I was like, ‘I’ll do it. I’m not above that.’ ”

Not too big a celeb, in other words.

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2018 NFL Draft: Goals for Miami Dolphins’ draft class this offseason

What’s realistic for Minkah Fitzpatrick? (Getty Images)

With the Dolphins’ recent draft class reporting for rookie minicamp this weekend, they’ll need an iPad more than shoulder pads.

The first step toward securing a spot on the depth chart will take place indoors as 20 rookies dive into a playbook they’ll need to nail down by the time Miami hits the field for Organized Team Activities in two weeks.

The goals are incremental, starting with simply proving they’re serious enough about this opportunity to stick around for the four weeks of offseason practices. After that it’s earning the right to stay for training camp in July, when the real competition for jobs begins. The 85-90 players Miami has in camp will scrap for 53 spots.

Of the 20 players expected in Davie this week, only the first five draft picks can reasonably assume anything about their future. Anyone picked in the sixth or seventh round, as well as the dozen undrafted free agents, has nothing close to a guarantee.

As the rookies class begins its venture into this new world, going from college stars to that guy who carries Cameron Wake’s pads off the field, here’s the outlook for the eight players Miami drafted last month:

Minkah Fitzpatrick, safety, first round
As good as he is and as much as everyone raves about him being pro-ready, Fitzpatrick is no guarantee to knock T.J. McDonald out of the starting lineup. McDonald is 27 and looked good enough a year ago that Miami gave him a four-year, $24 million extension before he ever played a game. The test run of him and Jones on the back end didn’t go smoothly, and he’ll probably show up to OTAs ready to prove himself again.

The key for Fitzpatrick is to learn quickly and show versatility. The more he can do, the more defensive coordinator Matt Burke will look for places to get him on the field.

Mike Gesicki, tight end, second round
Gesicki is the most likely player in this draft class to earn a starting job, and the Dolphins are banking on him doing so. They have no one like him at the position. He was drafted to be the receiving threat this roster is missing at tight end, and his physical ability should be overwhelming compared to his competitors on the depth chart.

Route-running is the No. 1 job for Gesicki. If he is reliably in the right spots for Ryan Tannehill during offseason practices, it bodes well for his role in the offense going forward. A good showing will prompt Adam Gase to rework his plans over the monthlong break between June minicamp and training camp.

Jerome Baker, linebacker, third round
As thin as the Dolphins are at linebacker, Baker’s in for quite a fight at the position. Undrafted veterans Mike Hull and Chase Allen have stayed on the team because they’re technically sound, and former first-round pick Stephone Anthony is in a contract year. Beyond those players, Baker’s also got to outplay seventh-rounder Quentin Poling.

Baker is more of a coverage linebacker than a thumper, which should work well with what Miami needs. The plan for now is to install Raekwon McMillan at middle and Kiko Alonso on the outside. Baker’s got the requisite speed to capture the other outside job.

Durham Smythe, tight end, fourth round
By their own admission, the Dolphins basically drafted one tight end to can catch passes and one to block. Smythe is the blocker, but he’ll have to be more than that. Even Anthony Fasano, a role model for him, was a factor in the passing game. Over an eight-year span beginning in his third season, Fasano averaged 31 catches, 352 yards and four touchdowns.

That’s a good goal for Smythe. The Dolphins currently have A.J. Derby as a pass-catching threat and MarQueis Gray as a seasoned, savvy player who blocks well and occasionally springs loose as a receiver.

Kalen Ballage, running back, fourth round
Be fast and know the plays. Gase won’t ask much more than that out of Ballage. Kenyan Drake is the clear starter for the Dolphins at running back, and Frank Gore isn’t here merely to play professor. Ballage needs to get himself ready to fill in for Drake this season and to play with him starting in 2019.

In the meantime, he’s got an opportunity to be a threat on special teams. He clocked a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and was an effective kick returner each of his last two seasons at Arizona State.

Cornell Armstrong, cornerback, sixth round
The Dolphins’ plan for cornerbacks is to have a lot of them. Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley are the starters, Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett are reinforcements and it’s Hunger Games for everybody else.

Armstrong has 4.4 speed, but wasn’t a particularly outstanding high school or college player. He’ll have to be convincing to assure himself of making the cut over the next four months and he’ll be competing with Torry McTyer, Tracy Howard, Jordan Lucas and others to do so.

Quentin Poling, linebacker, seventh round
The Dolphins currently have eight linebackers on the roster, and Poling is last in line of that group. Additionally, the team is bringing in Cayson Collins from North Carolina and Mike McCray of Michigan as undrafted free agents, and there typically isn’t a huge difference between seventh-round picks and undrafted guys.

Poling’s got good strength and speed, which gives him a nice start in trying to win a job as a special teamer and second-string linebacker. While he’s got some decent competition, this is a position that’s mostly wide open for Miami.

Jason Sanders, kicker, seventh round
Sanders’ situation comes down to the fairly simple question of whether he can outperform undrafted Florida Atlantic kicker Greg Joseph. Whoever makes more kicks and looks better on kickoffs will take Cody Parkey’s old job — unless, of course, someone better becomes available in free agency.

Sanders made 25 of 35 field goals (71 percent) in his college career and hit 111 of 112 extra-point tries. Joseph, who played at American Heritage in Delray Beach, made 57 of 82 field goals (70 percent) and 165 of 170 extra points.

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