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August 1, 2011Michigan State returns the Big Ten's top rushing running back from last year, Edwin Baker, along with a pair of running mates who aren't far behind him in terms of talent and productivity.
Add it all up, and it's hard to find a stable of ball carriers anywhere in America better than Michigan State's trio of Baker, Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper.
Baker, who rushed for 1,201 yards as a sophomore in 2010, isn't one to back down from hyperbole. He stated in the spring that he is shooting for 2,000 yards this fall as a junior. But when it comes to boasting that the Spartan backs are the best in the country, he changed direction on the question.
"I don't think that there is a college that has three backs that are as close as we are," Baker said during last week's Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. "We hang out together, we talk with each other, we help each out on the field to get better and do great things."
Baker and Caper have been tight friends since becoming roommates during their freshman year. They welcomed Bell into the club last year.
Bell (6-2, 237, Soph., Reynoldsburg, Ohio) jumped past Caper in the playing group last year as a true freshman. He rushed for 605 yards (5.7 per carry) while making the Rivals.com All-Freshman Team.
A year earlier, Caper was a Big Ten All-Freshman Team selection by ESPN.com and The Sporting News. Caper led Michigan State in rushing as a freshman in 2009 with 468 yards while repping ahead of Baker for most of the year. His 23-yard TD run lifted the Spartans to an overtime victory over Michigan that year.
But Caper's rushing attempts fell from a team-high 120 in 2009 to 38 a year ago. He was slowed by a hand injury in the early part of the season, giving Bell an avenue into the playing group.
Caper (5-11, 223, Jr., Battle Creek) was bothered in the spring by a hamstring injury. He is expected to be at full throttle when practice begins on Aug. 7.
"Larry is just staying humble," Baker said, "being patient and keeping God in his life and knowing that good things come to those who wait."
Baker says the closeness of the running backs is indicative of strong chemistry throughout the roster.
"Our chemistry was good last year, but from last year to this year is on another level," Baker said. "We are coming in and putting in the work, coming in everyday and having the right attitude and the right mission statement to know that we have a great team that can get the job done. Last year it was the same thing, but this year we still have that bitter taste in our mouth, knowing that we still have something to prove."
Baker was first-team All-Big Ten in 2010, and enters fall camp listed No. 18 on the Preseason Top 25 Heisman Watch List by NationalChamps.net.
But Baker says he might as well feel like a third-string freshman again, heading into August camp.
"It doesn't really feel too different because I still have to fight for my position," Baker said. "Nothing is given to me. Coach Dantonio will tell you that. There isn't really a starter, as yet, so I still have to go out there and prove my self day-in and day-out."
Baker has been in excellent shape since the day he arrived on campus. But "Rock" has tried to sharpen his edge even more so this off-season.
"I had to push myself to different limits that I had never pushed myself to," he said. "So this summer, I've just been working hard to be in the best shape that I can be, going into camp. I've been trying to stay healthy and get more treatment than I usually do, just to keep my body as fresh as possible for the beginning of camp."
Players report on Saturday.