New Buccaneers defensive tackle Chris Baker is your quintessential late bloomer. Now on the verge of his sixth season as a pro, it wasn’t until just a couple years ago that he found his comfort zone and became an impact player.
The fact he has spent most of his career playing more or less out of position may be one of the reasons for that.
An undrafted free agent out of little Hampton University, where he played his senior season after getting kicked out of Penn State for his involvement in two off-field fights, Baker has played almost exclusively in 3-4 fronts since coming to the NFL.
His scheme of choice has always been the 4-3 he worked in under Joe Paterno at Penn State.
Baker will finally be returning to a 4-3 scheme now that he’s with the Bucs. In fact, that’s one reason he quickly chose to make Tampa Bay his new home. Baker has long wanted to play in a 4-3 scheme again because he believes his impact will be greater there.
“In a 3-4 scheme the defensive tackle’s first job is to stop the guard from getting up onto the linebackers,’’ Baker said following his introductory press conference at One Buc Place last week. “But in a 4-3 scheme, I’ve got more freedom.
“In a 4-3 scheme I’ve got the freedom to get up-field and get into the backfield. In a 4-3, they’re actually expecting you to get into the backfield and make plays. That’s why the 4-3 guys always have more sacks than the 3-4 guys. They can get in there a create a lot of havoc.’’
Despite feeling a little out of place, Baker has nevertheless created quite a lot of havoc the last couple years. While playing primarily at left end for the Redskins, he recorded 101 tackles, 10.5 sacks and forced five fumbles during that period.
Over the same period, only one Buccaneers lineman (Will Gholston, 116) has recorded more tackles; only two (Gerald McCoy, 15.5 and Robert Ayers, 15) have recorded more sacks and no one along the Bucs defensive front has forced more fumbles.
Those numbers could all change now that Baker has changed teams and changed schemes. The Bucs in fact, are counting on it.