Baker shines in return to action

For most of South Carolina's players, it was just another scrimmage. But not for Eric Baker, the junior running back from Jacksonville, Florida, who has missed most of the past two seasons with injuries that include a hernia and a torn ACL. However, Baker has been hard at work preparing this spring and was a standout on offense in Saturday's action.

There have been many, long hard games spent on the sidelines over the past two years for Eric Baker. He has watched the Carolina football program rise to new heights, but up until now, has only been an observer to the history, and not part of it on the field.

But if Saturday's scrimmage inside Williams-Brice Stadium is any indication, Mr. Baker has a chance to be a big contributor behind Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles during the upcoming season.

Baker carried the ball seven times for 34 yards on Saturday but also chipped in with four receptions for 17 yards. Those four receptions tied him for the scrimmage lead with Ace Sanders.

Still, getting to this point hasn't been easy for the running back that had a hernia operation in the preseason of 2009 and tore his ACL in practice preparing for the Papajohns.com Bowl after that same season. And although he admits there were some tough moments mentally during his time out, he now has full confidence that his body will hold up through the grind of spring and fall practice.

"Yeah, it crossed my mind (that I wouldn't get back out here again)," said Baker. "I had to block that stuff out to heal up mentally. Because without thinking ‘100-percent,' (the knee) won't be 100-percent. But its football, stuff happens."

With the knee now full go, Baker excelled in the scrimmage, even drawing the praise of the Head Ball Coach following the workout. With proven talents like Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles manning the front line, Spurrier said it will be good to have another reliable back in his stable.

"Yeah, Eric is fully recovered from his knee surgery, 100-percent," said Spurrier. "He and Kenny give us two really solid players there at tailback along with Marcus. So we're in good shape at running back."

Running backs coach Jay Graham also praised Baker, pointing out that the biggest thing he can do at this point is continue to knock off the rust from the past two years and prove himself as a durable threat. With Baker also tying for the team lead in receptions during the scrimmage, Graham said that part of Baker's appeal is his ability to be a multi-threat back on the field.

"I just wanted to get some of that rust off, and man, he looked pretty good," said Graham. "He ran hard; he had good vision, so I'm looking forward to this spring with him. It's tough, having not been in scrimmages or in game situations last year; it'll affect you a little bit. But he came out today and he's picking it up really fast, so it's good to see him doing well. He has good hands, strong hands, he's just getting better with his route running, (and) he's getting used to seeing everything as he's running his routes. That's the biggest thing that he's doing well right now."

Baker also discussed his mentality towards practice these days, and what he wants to accomplish during spring practice and beyond.

While Saturday's action was certainly a step in the right direction, the experienced back said he is still taking it slow and trying to advance his game each day.

"I'm taking it one day at a time," said Baker. "Getting better each day, getting used to the practice and simulation and all that stuff. I think I'm doing good in all aspects but there's still room for improvement, just getting better every day."

Even with good performances in the spring, Baker knows he will face an uphill climb to break into a running back rotation that features Marcus Lattimore and is complimented by Kenny Miles. Those two backs combined for 1,392 yards last season and Lattimore is expected to do even more great things as a sophomore.

But Baker is not shying away from the competition, and said he believes having that type of cast around him will only make him work harder and strive to be even better. And with the support of those two leading him on, he believes that come kickoff in the fall, he will be more than ready to go.

"There's always competition," said Baker. "It's D-I college football and there's always competition. That's to be expected. Me and Kenny will step in (if Marcus goes down) and make big plays, and change the game. They've been giving me positive messages, and keeping me upbeat."

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