Baker's leading, without playing

He isn't practicing this spring, but Rashad Baker is still leading. Though sidelined by a minor shoulder problem, Tennessee's newly elected captain still attends the workouts and offers tips and encouragement to his teammates.

That has caught the attention of defensive coordinator John Chavis.

Asked how he feels about the leadership on defense this year, Chavis replied: "Rashad Baker is a guy who has come miles and miles. I felt going into last season that he was going to be one of the best safeties in the country. Certainly, he showed he's capable of playing at that level. He's also been an outstanding leader for us. He's a great practice guy, a guy that's going to lead by example.

''Kevin Burnett's the same kind of guy, along with Robert Peace and Kevin Simon. Jason Mitchell's going in that direction ... a very talented guy. As far as the leadership on our defense, I think it starts with Rashad Baker and Kevin Burnett.''

Baker hopes to lead the Big Orange back to respectability following a 2002 season which saw it finish 8-5. He believes some teammates may have focused more on personal goals than team goals after the Vols stumbled to a poor start last fall.

''Obviously, when you start losing people say, 'Well, this is not the season I envisioned having' or 'Since we dont have a chance to do this or that, can I put myself in a better situation than I am right now? Can I be the spotlight?' When you are losing that happens. But when you are winning everybody comes together.''

In a few months, Baker will begin his fourth season as Tennessee's starting free safety. He can't believe the ride is down to one year.

''It has come so fast,'' he said. ''I still don't believe this will be my final year at Tennessee. It started out rough my first year, but it has been really good. I am going to enjoy the rest as much as I have the first three years.''

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