Baker's a man of action, not words

UT head man Phillip Fulmer and defensive coordinator John Chavis agree that <!--Default NodeId For Rashad Baker is 670348,2003--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:670348]>Rashad Baker</A> and <!--Default NodeId For Gibril Wilson is 670169,2003--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:670169]>Gibril Wilson</A> may be the best pair of safeties in college football. Though understandably flattered by such comments, Baker figures actions speak louder than words.

''I feel real good about it,'' he said of Fulmer's and Chavis' praise. ''But (1998 Vol safeties) Deon Grant and Fred White won SEC and national championships. If me and Gibril and the defense can do that, then we can truly be one of the best to come through here.''

Whereas Baker started in 2000, 2001 and 2002, Wilson arrived as a junior college transfer last year and gradually worked his way into the lineup. He made tremendous progress once he got comfortable with the UT system, however.

''I was surprised,'' Baker said. ''He came in as a juro transfer and picked it up real good. I'm real proud of Gibril, and I think you should expect good things from him this year.''

Baker also expects good things from Brandon Johnson, another junior college signee who will join the Vol secondary when preseason drills begin Aug. 5. Johnson already showed his skills during some voluntary summer workouts.

''I believe he can help us in the secondary,'' Baker said. ''He's a good corner with a lot of confidence. In our seven-on-sevens, when he got beat, he got right back up there to compete again. That's a good thing about a corner: Once you get beat you don't get your head down. You come right back for more.

In addition to the arrival of Johnson, Tennessee's defense should be bolstered by the return of linebacker Kevin Burnett, end Constantin Ritzmann and linebacker Kevin Simon -- all of whom missed most or all of the 2002 season with injuries.

''It will help a lot,'' Baker said. ''Our linebacker corps is deep but having Kevin Burnett and Kevin Simon back is a great deal. I believe (juco transfer) Jon Poe is going to step up and have a big year when given a chance, along with (sophomores) Jason Mitchell and Marvin Mitchell.''

The Vols are counting on the return of Simon and Burnett to offset a glaring lack of experience in the defensive line. Even with unproven performers across the front four, Baker believes Tennessee's stop unit will be pretty formidable.

''The defense can be real good with everybody healthy,'' he said. ''It starts with the guys upfront and the pass rush, then the linebackers filling their gaps and the corners and safeties playing our assignments.''

Baker's skills as a pass defender have him pegged as a preseason all-star candidate. But his leadership skills may be just as valuable to the Vols this year. That's why he has been voted a captain for 2003. What does he bring to the role?

''Experience,'' he said. ''I know my assignments and what I'm supposed to do. I'm also able to help the (other guys on) defense out. I know their assignments and where they're supposed to be.''

Still, Baker is a low-key guy who chooses his words carefully. The question arises: Is he vocal enough to be a team leader?

''I've been vocal somewhat but not as much as I should've been,'' he said. ''As a captain, nothing changes except for my leadership with my actions. My actions speak louder than my words. If I go out there and show that I'm a senior leader and captain, everybody will follow.''

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