Scouting the Cats: Running backs

UK's running backs: 'Solid group' ventures into void

Sanders: 'I want to be that guy' who steps up

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 23, 2011 

  • This is the fifth in a series of nine stories analyzing the UK football team position by position.Coming Saturday: Special teams

  • The main man: Raymond Sanders. Even though there are several options at the running back spot, position coach Steve Pardue referred to the 5-8, 205-pound sophomore back from Stone Mountain, Ga., as "our guy" last week. Sanders, who ran for 254 yards and three TDs last season as a true freshman, is a cerebral back with a good understanding of the offense.

    The supporting cast: Cats coaches believe they have plenty of potential stars — if mostly untested — in the pack, including sophomores CoShik Williams (136 yards, four TDs last season) and Jonathan George, red-shirt freshman Brandon Gainer and true freshmen Josh Clemons and Marcus Caffey.

    Newcomer to watch: Josh Clemons has a true SEC running back body and has developed a good understanding of the offense in a quick period of time. Clemons, the state offensive player of the year in Class AAAA in Georgia, rushed for 2,003 yards and 25 touchdowns (8.3 yards per carry) last season at Fayetteville.

    Outlook: It's hard to go through a season in the SEC injury free, even if you're a sturdy running back. So Kentucky's depth could be a big boost, especially when league play gets going. There is a lot of versatility and depth at this position, and behind such a veteran offensive line the Cats could have a solid year on the ground.

Raymond Sanders has heard the low frequency chatter from Kentucky fans.

The sophomore running back knows there are concerns about how the Cats' offense will perform this season.

He wishes he could collectively put the fans' minds at ease by showing them the collection of running backs around him.

"The talk is how is the offense going to be this year and how is everyone going to replace Randall (Cobb) and replace (Derrick) Locke?" Sanders said. Locke ran for 887 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and Cobb ran for 424 yards and five touchdowns.

"I want to be that guy who comes in and tries to fill that void. I want to be better than those guys," Sanders said.

Sanders knows he has big cleats to fill, but he also knows he doesn't have to fill them by himself.

The sophomore, who says he is nearly 100 percent after having arthroscopic knee surgery in the off-season, has plenty of potential company.

"We've got a solid group," UK Coach Joker Phillips said on Monday. "There's a lot of depth there. Raymond has done a really good job. Then after him one of the freshmen is in the mix and then some of those older guys.

"They've all got decent speed, decent athleticism and they're all tough."

Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders and Phillips are all singing the praises of the Cats' freshmen runners Josh Clemons and Marcus Caffey.

They also seem excited about junior CoShik Williams (136 yards, four TDs last season), sophomore Jonathan George and redshirt freshman Brandon Gainer.

Phillips said at Media Day that George is "one of the strongest guys on this football team pound for pound, and we feel good about him."

On Monday, he said Williams has been special, too.

"CoShik Williams has been as solid as we've had around here; he practices at a different speed than everyone else, so he has a chance to help us this year," Phillips said.

There are plenty of options available and the combinations of options are endless, the coaches say.

"I don't think we have one back that's head and shoulders above the rest of them," Phillips said. "We'll have two, three, maybe four backs that play for us. Because they're so talented, we'll probably (travel with) five, maybe even six backs to play special teams for us."

Injuries and tweaks have precluded some of the players from showing their true potential, like Gainer being out for a week with a reported elbow injury and Caffey missing time as well.

The freshman back who seems to have the most buzz around camp is Clemons, a 5-10, 201-pounder from Fayetteville, Ga.

He has the look of a big-time Southeastern Conference runner, even though he's just a freshman.

"He's got a great attitude and his body is more ready than a lot of freshmen are at this level," running backs coach Steve Pardue said. "His dad used to play in the (NFL) and he's a personal trainer, so when you look at him he doesn't look like an 18-year-old freshman."

After Saturday's final fall scrimmage, Randy Sanders said he was pleased with Clemons, who rushed for 2,003 yards and 25 touchdowns in his senior season.

"He's got great natural instincts; can put his foot in the ground, change directions, use those instincts," Randy Sanders said. "It just comes down to if he can hang on to the ball and learn his pass protections and all that."

Raymond Sanders, a bit of a self-described playbook worm, said he's been trying to help all of the backups get up to speed and that Clemons is picking up the offense well.

"I'm staying on top of him in meeting rooms and outside the meeting rooms, making sure he's understanding the offense," Sanders said.

"Not just understanding what the running back does, but what these linemen are doing or how these receivers are blocking. He's doing a great job. He's a freshman, so he's not going to be perfect, but I'm proud of him coming out and going full speed, even if he does something the wrong way."

It's what Clemons promised to do in his one interview opportunity at UK Media Day the first week of August.

"I'm just trying to learn the playbook, work hard and get in shape," Clemons said. "I'm just ready to work hard and whatever happens, happens."

He seemed unfazed by a crowded depth chart.

"Everyone wants to come in and play, but I'm just trying to learn the plays and get bigger," Clemons said. "If the coaches want me to play, I'll be ready."

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