Running Backs: Searching For Depth
Don't let his Hollywood-caliber smile and engaging personality fool you. On the practice field, he is and has been a take-charge type of guy. OK, at times, he's been downright cocky.
"That's a great thing, especially with all the egos we've got at receiver," quipped senior linebacker Tommy Richardson.
However, most people won't know if Baker's bravado is warranted until he settles under center shortly after 3:30 p.m. at Georgia Tech – a place the Tar Heels haven't won since 1997 – and against a Yellow Jackets' defense John Bunting says will be "blitzing as soon as they get off the bus."
"Each game I'll gain more confidence as I see more defenses," Baker said. "And, I can definitely take a hit. I like getting hit; sometimes I wish they would hit me a little more in practice and feel like I'm in a football game."
Whether or not it was mop-up duty or desperation time, no one can argue that Baker hasn't been impressive in the opportunities he's had during the three seasons he's spent backing up UNC record-setter Darian Durant.
Baker has completed 44-of-80 passes (.550) for 623 yards and three touchdowns. That's a darn fine statistical afternoon or two of football that has stretched out over twelve appearances between 2002 and 2004.
"Every time he's gotten into a game, he's done well," Bunting said. "He's extremely competitive. And I've talked to my coaches…I talked to [Gary] Tranquill and Coach [Hal] Brock; he's got all the tools. He's got a strong arm. He's mobile. He's tough; he's athletic."
And he's shown just flashes of a flare for the dramatic, with a 76-yard scoring strike to Adarius Bowman at N.C. State in 2003 and a 52-yard TD to Chad Scott last year at Virginia.
Against the Cavaliers, he was 8-of-9 passing for 171 yards.
Baker's career passing efficiency is an enviable 125.29.
"He's pretty good to me," Richardson said. "[His arm is] stronger than Darian's. He throws the deep ball very well."
Indeed Baker has a shotgun for an arm. It's not Michael Vick's, but it may be as strong as UNC fans have seen since Chris Keldorf or Mark Maye left town. And apparently, that is not up for debate.
There is no doubt Baker's earned his shot.
But despite his arm strength, most concerns revolve around how he will react under pressure, especially early in the season; how he can manage the game, and how well he can throw the short and intermediate passes.
And if you're the kind who likes to turn concerns to worries, then just what will Carolina do if Baker gets hurt or can't cut it as regular starter in the ACC?
Things get hairy after that.
"I can't get hurt," Baker said.
Sophomore Roger Heinz is also confident. So much so that he doesn't consider himself the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart, but rather "1B." Of course he's never been discouraged by the coaching staff to think anything different. And if Baker falters, for what ever reason, Heinz will take over.
But Heinz has never thrown a pass in a game, although he is he holder on field goal and extra point attempts and he took some snaps at Florida State last year.
After Heinz, things get a little confusing. When camp begins Aug. 12, the third quarterback spot appears to be up for grabs between redshirt freshman Joey Bozich, true freshman Bobby Rome and walk-on Jay Spence.
Bozich, 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, has the size and strength of the prototype drop back passer. In fact, he's the strongest UNC quarterback ever on record, having set a school mark with a 315-pound power clean.
Somewhat unknown because he didn't sign with the Tar Heels until last August and then immediately enrolled and was redshirted in 2004, Bozich passed for 1.813 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushed for 669 yards and 10 scores as a senior at Hinsdale (Ill.) Central.
Freshman Cam Sexton might have figured more prominently in the rotation had he not broken his ankle during a spring scrimmage on March 30. The fleet-footed freshman was hurt while sliding into the Kenan Stadium hedges following a touchdown run.
Following two surgeries, he was expected to recover in time for the start of the season. So, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Sexton could return this season.
"He's been doing some throwing," Bunting said. "He isn't doing any sprinting yet, but he's making progress – significant progress."
At 5-10, 225, Rome has the body type that most resembles Durant's. However it's highly doubtful he would pressed into serious duty this season. And it's just as questionable if Rome will even play quarterback at UNC.
The Tar Heel signal caller with the most college game experience is ineligible for 2005. Nebraska transfer Joe Dailey played two seasons in Lincoln, starting all 11 games for the Cornhuskers in 2004.
At the helm of a West Coast offense as a sophomore, Dailey established a single-season Nebraska school record with 342 yards passing in a 59-27 win over Baylor. He also eclipsed the 300-yard mark two other times last year.
In just a little over two seasons, Dailey threw for 2,142 yards and 19 touchdowns – completing 50 percent of his passes.
Also, clearly looking to land at least one more quarterback prospect for 2006, Carolina currently has four known scholarship offers outstanding according to Scout.com.