Former first-round pick Stephone Anthony: ‘I have to become starter’ for Dolphins

Stephone Anthony is trying to get his career back on track. (Getty Images)

DAVIE — Stephone Anthony was a first-round pick just three years ago and he’s only 25, but there’s a sense that he’s already running out of time.

The NFL is turbulent, and things change quickly. Anthony was one of the most promising rookies in the league for the Saints, then found himself shipped to the Dolphins for a fifth-round pick last year and is fighting for a job this offseason. He’s battling a rookie, among others, for one of Miami’s starting linebacker spots and he knows it’s a critical point in his career.

“Before I can do anything else,” Anthony said, “I have to become a starter.”

That’s a key step toward righting his career, and he’s in a good position to do it.

While Kiko Alonso and Raekwon McMillan can be marked down as certain starters, the rest of the Dolphins’ linebacker corps is wide open. Third-round pick Jerome Baker is likely to be in the mix, as well as undrafted scrappers Cayson Collins and Mike McCray and returning players Mike Hull and Chase Allen.

Anthony said he’s been taking snaps with the first- and second-team defense during Organized Team Activities.

He’s slightly leaner than last year, checking in at 6-foot-3 and somewhere between 235 and 240 pounds (as opposed to 245), but the most important thing is he’s far more familiar the Dolphins’ scheme than when he arrived.

Miami needed a linebacker when Lawrence Timmons deserted the team early last season and found an eager trading partner in the Saints, who had lost interest in Anthony when he wasn’t producing in their new defensive scheme. After opening with 112 tackles, two defensive scores and an all-rookie selection, he started three games in 2016 and was inactive last year while New Orleans looked to deal him.

Anthony played eight games off the bench for the Dolphins and totaled 15 tackles, plus some special teams work. He showed promise at times, but not nearly enough for the organization to exercise a 2019 option on him last month that would have paid him around $9 million.

General manager Chris Grier and vice president Mike Tannenbaum didn’t explain that decision to Anthony, but they didn’t need to.

“It was kind of what I expected,” he said. “I needed more snaps and there’s a lot that goes into it. But that’s not my job to worry about. My job is going to be to put my best foot forward.”

He’ll be an unrestricted free agent next spring, which heightens the importance of the upcoming season. A good year will put him in position for a long-term deal with Miami or somewhere else. Otherwise, he’ll probably be looking at single-year, prove-it contracts until he shows he’s worth more than that.

One factor working in his favor this season is stability. Having done his best to catch up on the Dolphins’ defense last year, he’s now had a full nine months with the team. He’s been around for all of OTAs and minicamp, plus he’ll work through training camp and the preseason. He had none of those benefits last year.

“The biggest difference is the amount of time I have and the time I’ve spent trying to learn the system and getting myself comfortable with it,” Anthony said.

Defensive coordinator Matt Burke sees that as the only barrier to Anthony being a significant contributor. He said last week, “It’s always difficult to come in the middle of the season, come from a different scheme and pick things up… But he works really hard. He works really, really hard.”

Everything’s more routine for Anthony now, including his living situation. He took up residence in a local hotel for almost a month after being traded to the Dolphins last season, but now he’s settled. That makes life easier.

It helps to have perspective, too. Going from first-round pick to castoff and now trying to climb his way back to the top hasn’t been fun, but he’s learned throughout that journey.

“I think it’s just growth, honestly,” Anthony said. “I think it’s just being in the league, going into my fourth year, understanding the game, how this game is played from the college game and just honing in and packing that information in.”

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Miami Dolphins’ Darren Rizzi: Kicking battle is even; Raekwon McMillan still on special teams

Dolphins special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi explains some of the options coaches have on special teams.

DAVIE — A day after Jason Sanders was perfect on field-goal tries, Greg Joseph had four misses during Dolphins mini-camp.

Don’t read too much into that, says Darren Rizzi, the special teams coordinator and associate head coach.

Rizzi’s point was that behind closed doors that the media haven’t seen, the kicking battle has been much closer than when kickers have been in full view.

“It’s been about even,” Rizzi said Wednesday.

It didn’t appear that way after Sanders, drafted in the seventh round out of New Mexico, went seven-for-seven and Joseph, an undrafted free agent from Florida Atlantic, had four misses, including some from very makable range. Rizzi pointed out that Joseph earlier had a near-perfect day, so there’s a long way to go before those two are sorted out.

“What everybody has seen is both guys have really good leg strength,” Rizzi said. “Both have a lot of pop on the ball. Both have really gotten the ball up well, meaning elevation on the ball.”

Both performed well on kickoffs, Rizzi added.

Because they’re rookies, they’re trying to impress coaches while Rizzi is “tweaking” their mechanics. It could be “something as simple as an inch or two on your plant foot,” Rizzi said, but the effects of those changes won’t come overnight.

That’s not all Rizzi has to concern himself about.

Raekwon McMillan, whose rookie season last year was wiped out by a knee injury while covering a punt on his first play of preseason, now is a starting linebacker.

So now what? Is he still on special teams? Is it too risky?

Rizzi said it’s “the 10,000-pound elephant in the back room because he got hurt last year. I get it. His first play in the NFL, he ran down a punt and got injured. Rookie linebackers play on special teams. It doesn’t matter if they’re drafted, undrafted, first round, second round, 10th round, 90th round. Rookie linebackers and defensive backs and running backs and receivers, they play special teams.”

McMillan isn’t a rookie now, and he won’t play on every aspect of special teams, but he’ll still be used on some, Rizzi said. The injury history won’t factor into coaches’ thinking.

“We’re going to coach everybody the same,” Rizzi said. “Listen, it was a really unfortunate thing that happened to him last year. To his credit, he’s jumped right back in. He’s doing our drills. He’s doing everything. … Everybody is going to have some type of role on special teams. We’re not going to start making decisions based on injury history. You’re not going to have anybody left on the field.”

When the Dolphins traded Jarvis Landry, they lost one of their punt returners. Odds are Jakeem Grant will continue to handle his share of those duties, with newcomer Danny Amendola the favorite to be the “safe” return man when the Dolphins are backed up. Several others, including Albert Wilson and Drew Morgan, are getting looks.

Between all the newcomers and rule changes to make kickoffs safer, the Dolphins have miles to go before sorting out the kick-return unit. Options deep include Wilson, Senorise Perry, fourth-rounder Kalen Ballage, Torry McTyer and last year’s top return man, Grant.

“We’re still trying to fudge with this new rule a little bit,” Rizzi said. “ … We’re trying to kind of figure out how we’re going to do it, whether it’s one guy deep, two guys deep.”

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Miami Dolphins’ Raekwon McMillan: As MLB, ‘I need to know’ the answers

Dolphins linebacker Raekwon McMillan talks to the media Thursday after OTAs.

DAVIE — Raekwon McMillan is one of those rare NFL players who didn’t participate in a single snap last year but isn’t in his first pro season this year. So if he’s not a veteran and not a rookie, where does that leave him?

“Whatever you want to call it,” he joked of how he’d label this year. He settled on calling it “my rookie-and-a-half” season.

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The problem is the Dolphins can’t afford to treat him like a rookie, nor can he afford to act like one. He’s the starting middle linebacker, the guy listening to coordinator Matt Burke’s instructions in his helmet, the guy calling signals to the other 10 defenders.

The leader. “The quarterback of the defense,” he said.

“It all comes with confidence and knowing what I’m doing, being able to tell guys what they’re doing around me,” he said.

When McMillan injured his knee on his first pro play in preseason in 2017, he didn’t use it to take a year off. He spent it exercising his mind — learning the defense — since he couldn’t do much to exercise his body. The test will come when others look to him for direction.

“And when they ask, have a definite answer,” McMillan said. “Not like ‘Oh, I don’t know. Let me go ask coach.’ When they come to me as the Mike linebacker, I need to know.

“A leader isn’t just a title that you get because you’re the Mike linebacker. Leader is a title that you get because you put in the work, day in and day out, during the offseason and leading up until now.”

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It was easy to forget Dolphins LB Raekwon McMillan, but now’s the time to start watching

Raekwon McMillan starts out as the Dolphins’ middle linebacker. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — It’s easy to forget about Raekwon McMillan in a Dolphins offseason full of swirling storylines that range from the dismissal of longtime stars to the return of a starting quarterback.

Maybe a second-round pick isn’t flashy enough to keep people’s attention after a year away, or perhaps the blur of nondescript linebackers that have come through Miami over the past decade has makes it hard to remember that position matters. It could also be that he’s never played a snap in the NFL.

But, man, don’t miss this guy’s re-arrival.

McMillan is back on the field for Organized Team Activities and the medical staff hasn’t put any restrictions on him as he returns from the torn ACL in his right knee that erased his rookie season last year.

In his first three months or so after being drafted at age 20, he was already good enough to secure the starting middle linebacker job. The expectations were enormous inside Dolphins headquarters, and the coaching staff was ready to trust him with all the responsibility that role entails.

“I was still a rookie last year and I was being thrown into the fire, but I was very confident in myself and what I could do on the field,” McMillan said after today’s practice. “I felt like I could have done big things last year, but it just had to wait until the next year.”

The next year is here, and McMillan’s as important as anyone other than Ryan Tannehill as the Dolphins try to stun a football world that has written them off for 2018. They’re making a string of little bets, counting on a rookie here and a new face there, but McMillan is the closest they have to a sure thing.

His healthy return is better than anything the Dolphins could have done at the position in free agency. Here’s the infusion they’re getting in the middle of their defense: the No. 7 linebacker in his draft class, a 6-foot-2, 248-pound bruiser who can run and a player who rolled up 221 tackles in his last two seasons at Ohio State.

Take that weapon and allow defensive coordinator Matt Burke a year to refine it. That’s what happened. Much like Tannehill, McMillan didn’t allow the injury to entirely wipe out his season. He was around the team all last year, listening and learning to ensure he wouldn’t fall behind.

“It was hard at first,” he said, “but then I sucked it up and told myself that I could either let this year be a waste or prepare myself for next year.”

Consider that McMillan arrived at that conclusion after dreaming of the NFL all his life and working relentlessly once the Dolphins drafted him only to have it ripped away from him in the opening minutes of his first preseason game. That didn’t send him spiraling whatsoever.

It’s been a refreshingly mature approach for someone who will be 22 when he hits the upcoming season, and that way of thinking was influenced in part by doing practically every step of his rehabilitation alongside Tannehill. As grown up as McMillan seems, there’s no substitute for time, and a 29-year-old teammate keeping him steady throughout the process made a meaningful impression. If McMillan’s as good as the Dolphins think he’ll be this year, credit Tannehill for a big-brother-like assist at a time when he had plenty of his own problems.

But mostly, the comeback speaks volumes about McMillan’s makeup.

His return should be an absolute thrill for the fanbase, but it easily slips to the background amid everything that’s happened since he went down.

Tannehill rightfully dominates that timeline. The Dolphins have had 17 different national anthem policies since then. Chris Foerster happened. And Lawrence Timmons.

Jay Cutler came and went fast enough that he might not have ever learned McMillan’s name. Rey Maualuga’s stay was even shorter. Franchise mainstays Mike Pouncey, Ndamukong Suh and Jarvis Landry were shipped out.

Adam Gase ripped apart his coaching staff with a flurry of moves in January, and a whole new crop of rookies was imported via the draft less than a month ago.

A million things have understandably distracted from the luster of what McMillan can bring to this team.

But now’s the time to start watching him closely.

He’s ahead of where he was last summer, which was already quite impressive. Few outside the team have seen much field work from McMillan, but Dolphins have analyzed and re-analyzed the film from what he did in practice last offseason and came away thoroughly convinced they have the right man at middle linebacker going forward.

“He was really getting to that point where he was about to make that move,” Burke said. “We really felt like he was just starting to take that step when we got him going before he got injured. We had high hopes for him last year. Nothing he’s done since then has discouraged that.”

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Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill instrumental in Raekwon McMillan’s ACL recovery

Ryan Tannehill and Raekwon McMillan were rehab buddies. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and then-rookie middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan bonded last year through an unfortunate and unexpected coincidence.

Both players missed all of last season with torn ACLs, and because their injuries took place a week apart they ended up on nearly identical comeback tracks. McMillan and Tannehill had surgery on the same day, returned to team headquarters on the same day and began rehabilitation at the same time.

“From Day 1, it was always a competition,” McMillan said of the relationship he formed with Tannehill as they went through the process together. “Who could walk without their crutches first? Who could run full speed under water first? Who could get a bigger quad muscle? Just little stupid stuff like that just to keep competing with each other.”

He reluctantly acknowledged that Tannehill won most of those contests, crediting him for being more at ease with some of the soreness that comes with that process.

Tannehill’s maturity and positivity undoubtedly rubbed off on McMillan, who needed that mentorship after watching his rookie season shatter before it ever began. He was 21 at the time, and it helped to have a veteran like Tannehill walking through the arduous process with him.

Both players anticipated big seasons and never saw them materialize.

Tannehill closed out 2016 by playing the best football of his career before a hit by Calais Campbell caused severe ACL and MCL sprains, which can include some tearing. He opted for rehab instead of surgery and came into training camp believing he was fully recovered. A few days in, his knee gave out on a noncontact play.

McMillan, a highly touted second-round pick out of Ohio State, was in line to win the starting middle linebacker job after just a few months in South Florida. He quickly proved himself as one of the Dolphins’ top defensive players and was settling into the job until tearing his ACL the first time he stepped onto the field for a preseason game.

That’s a lot to deal with at a young age and in a new phase of life, but Tannehill helped him through it.

“He always kept me up,” McMillan said. “Some days, I wasn’t feeling too good and I just couldn’t do what I wanted to do, and he always kept me positive and kept my mind right because he went through it last year.”

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Matt Burke sinking teeth into ways Minkah Fitzpatrick can sharpen Miami Dolphins’ D

Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke talks about the newcomers he’ll incorporate into his unit in 2018.

DAVIE — Noted world traveler and thrill seeker Matt Burke hasn’t settled on this summer’s excursion yet, but he did recently take a swim with hammerhead sharks. Much to Adam Gase’s relief, Burke, the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator, reported that his swimming buddies are more gentle than you’d think — if you were inclined to equate “hammerhead” with “gentle” in the first place.

That Burke returned with all limbs intact, though, might not be the first thing he mentions if you ask what has gone swimmingly for him lately.

At this time of year, a lot of what football coaches can do surrounds talking, plotting and dreaming about what the new “pieces” afforded to them can offer come fall.

And Burke has more new toys than he had a right to expect.

[Photos: Miami Dolphins rookies report to minicamp]

Burke thought someone was joking when he was awoken from his spring slumber by a call from Dolphins HQ asking what he thought of Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, a guy with three consecutive double-digit sack seasons on his resume who turns 28 next week. At first he gave a “yeah, fine.” When he realized it wasn’t a joke, he watched film, then basically said it was much better than fine with him.

Then, the offensively challenged Dolphins determined that the best available player with the No. 11 overall pick was a defensive guy, Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Toss in linebacker Raekwon McMillan, last year’s second-round pick who’s returning after missing his entire rookie season with a knee injury.

That makes three solid reasons Burke, a Dartmouth guy, has plenty of noodling to do about the options at his disposal to vastly improve a defense that ranked 16th overall and 29th in scoring in his first year as a coordinator.

“It’s always good to have different weapons for me,” Burke said. “ … We’re going to put this best 11 players on the field — maybe play to play, week to week, game to game — in terms of our matchups.”

In other words, Burke wants the defense to play the same kind of matchup chess match that Gase has wanted to do on offense but often has not had the means to pull it off. It’s already evident that three of Burke’s best players are safeties Fitzpatrick, Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald. Rather than try to divide three players into two slots, Burke confirmed that he may (read: will) use some three-safety alignments this year. Why wouldn’t he?

“To me, it’s all about matchups,” Burke said. “So if we feel that those body types or those players, whether it’s Minkah, T.J., Reshad at our safety spot are better matchups, whether it’s on tight ends or backs or whether it’s having a bigger body as a nickel on. … I just think the more players you get, again, that are multi-dimensional and have different skillsets, the more you can play around with how you’re utilizing them on the field on defense.”

Compared to what lies ahead, rookie camp is little more than a get-to-know you, here’s-your-playbook type thing, but even that has been enough for Burke to recognize Fitzpatrick isn’t your everyday rookie. When Fitzpatrick addressed the media Friday, he was almost incredulous when asked about all the extra work he famously puts in: Doesn’t everybody?, he all but asked.

Incredulous may have been an apt word to describe Burke on draft night. He had to know there was a great chance the Dolphins would go for offense in Round 1, especially if the right quarterback fell to them. Instead, Fitzpatrick, whom Nick Saban used in a variety of roles at Alabama, was the one who fell.

Of Fitzpatrick’s contributions as a rookie, Burke said, “That’s going to be up to him and how much he absorbs and takes on. Again, it’s been 48 hours or whatever it is (he has been in Davie). In the limited interaction I’ve had with him, he’s shown the ability to be sort of a big-picture thinker and he understands football and he’s a student of the game from that sense. So, I think he, again, my initial impression is that he’s got the ability to absorb a lot.”

Absorbing is about all McMillan could do after blowing out a knee on the opening kickoff of the first preseason game. Adding him is almost like getting an extra second-round pick to the Dolphins.

“If it works out the way we think it can and hope it does, that’s a huge acquisition for us,” Burke said. After watching tape of McMillan’s practices last summer, coaches were reminded that he looked ready to take that step as a starter before the injury. Burke added that McMillan has “worked his ass off” to get back to that state.

The biggest loss on defense, naturally, was Ndamukong Suh, but Burke thinks he’s covered there, too. He plans to roll in four tackles, with three jobs a virtual lock: Jordan Phillips, Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor.

All Burke has to do now is stay in one piece.

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Healthy Raekwon McMillan is ‘huge acquisition’ for Dolphins’ defense

Raekwon McMillan will resume his role as middle linebacker this season. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — Every conversation about the Dolphins’ offseason seems to steer back to the return of Ryan Tannehill. Adam Gase has brought it up constantly, and a healthy Tannehill should make a difference.

Defensive coordinator Matt Burke feels similarly about Raekwon McMillan, who was all set to be the starting middle linebacker last year before tearing his ACL in the preseason. Getting him on the field is should be more helpful than any linebacker move Miami could’ve made in free agency this year.

“If it works out the way we think it can and hope it does, that’s a huge acquisition for us,” Burke said today.

[Photos: Miami Dolphins rookies report to minicamp]

McMillan was the 54th overall pick in 2017, the seventh linebacker selected, and was impressive upon arrival. He had 102 tackles in his final year at Ohio State and turned pro at age 20.

Burke said he and linebackers coach Frank Bush were recently reviewing the practice film from training camp and saw a player that was on the cusp of taking hold of his role.

McMillan has not been on the field since the injury, but much like Tannehill, he’s remained involved in meetings and film sessions to stay up to date on what the defense is doing. The Dolphins have not specified exactly what he’ll be doing when Organized Team Activities begin May 22, but his rehabilitation is going well.

“We really felt like he was just starting to take that step when we got him going before he got injured,” Burke said. “We had high hopes for him last year. Nothing he’s done since then has discouraged that. He’s been really in-tune, been really sharp. He’s got all the leadership skills and things that we look for, especially at that position.

“He’s worked his (butt) off to get better. He’s rehabbed. He’s in here every day. He hasn’t shown any limitations so far, which has been encouraging. Hopefully he’s a big piece for us. I’m encouraged by him and I’m excited to see him get some work.”

The team has already made clear McMillan will be the starting middle linebacker this season, leaving Kiko Alonso to play on the outside. The position as a whole is one of the biggest question marks for Miami this year, so the defense has almost as much at stake in McMillan’s return as the offense does with Tannehill.

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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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Miami Dolphins decline 2019 option on LB Stephone Anthony

Stephone Anthony is now in a contract year. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

The upcoming season will be a prove-it year for Dolphins linebacker Stephone Anthony.

The former second-round pick will play the final year of his contract and become a free agent after Miami turned down its 2019 option on him. Had the team exercised it, it would have put Anthony in line for a $9.2 million salary next season.

That would have been the highest 2019 cap number for any linebacker currently on the roster.

Anthony, a first-round pick by New Orleans in 2015, will have to fight to secure a starting job this offseason. The Dolphins already have Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonso marked down as starters, and the third spot will be up for a competition. Chase Allen (four starts last year), Mike Hull (three) and newly minted third-rounder Jerome Baker all figure to be in the mix with Anthony.

The Dolphins acquired him in exchange for a fifth-round pick in September and played him off the bench in eight games.

“I think we got a good first look at him,” coach Adam Gase said in March. “I thought he did a great job in practice. The times that we got him into games, he did a lot of good things. We’re just going to kind of see how it plays out. I don’t want to promise anything to anybody. I think we’re just going to … Competition is going to be a good thing for us.”

Anthony, 25, was a PFWA all-rookie selection in 2015 before falling out of favor with the Saints. He had 15 tackles last year and goes into the upcoming season with a $1.5 million cap number.

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LeBron, Muschamp firing steered Miami Dolphins’ Jerome Baker away from UF, to Ohio State

Jerome Baker of the Ohio State Buckeyes pushes Mike Williams of the Clemson Tigers out of bounds in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

DAVIE — Jerome Baker is going to continue his football career in Florida after all.

It’s just a few years later than planned.

Baker was an Ohio standout who originally committed to play for the Florida Gators, going so far as to don a Gators visor to announce his choice.

So how did he end up at Ohio State?

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If you’re a Gators fan, blame LeBron James and the firing of Will Muschamp.

They helped persuade Baker to change his plans and embark on a career path that Friday night took another turn. The Dolphins drafted him in the third round to help solve their linebacking needs.

Just after Baker committed to the Gators, James announced he was leaving the Miami Heat to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers. The headline on SportsIllustrated.com, “I’m coming home,” resonated with Baker. So did James’ desire to enjoy success at home.

Baker even joked aloud to Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, “Why didn’t LeBron call me? We could have talked about it.”

When Baker learned that Muschamp was out in Gainesville, it not only gave Baker something to think about, it gave Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer — yeah, the ex-Gators coach — something to talk to Baker about. When recruiting around Ohio, Meyer likes to point out there’s nothing like winning in your home state.

“LeBron, when he played in Miami, he won a world championship, but it’s a different feeling when you’re playing in front of your home,” Baker told the Plain Dealer in 2016. “That’s my approach of it. You’re playing in front of your home. It’s a different feeling.”

Baker teamed with Raekwon McMillan, the Dolphins’ second-round pick last year, on the Buckeyes’ linebacking corps. Dolphins General Manager Chris Grier joked the organization participated in “insider trading” by getting a scouting report on Baker from McMillan.

It may never have been possible had Florida stuck with Muschamp. Baker believes he probably would have fulfilled his original commitment had he not been fired.

“Potentially, yeah, I believe so. I’ll say yeah,” Baker said. “I really just wanted to be comfortable going in, and knowing they weren’t going to be there and not knowing who is going be there, it was kind of scary.

“The biggest thing is they got fired, so I felt a little uneasy. I didn’t want to go into somewhere I didn’t know the whole coaching staff. But I’m a family guy, so staying in Columbus, two hours away, worked out fine for me.”

Maybe LeBron knew it all along. Years ago, Baker received a flyer from Ohio State featuring a picture of James. It was an Ohio thing, of course. The quote from James on the flyer:

“If I had one year of college, I would have ended up here.”

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