Locke leads deep stable of running backs

Derrick Locke is the unquestioned No. 1 running back on the depth chart, but Kentucky coaches think the Cats go five- or six-deep at the position.
Derrick Locke is the unquestioned No. 1 running back on the depth chart, but Kentucky coaches think the Cats go five- or six-deep at the position.

Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips likes to point out that in 2007, injuries forced a young freshman named Derrick Locke to enter the game as a fifth-team running back and deliver some clutch carries in a road win at Arkansas.

And for the first time since that 2007 season, the Cats have enough backfield depth that the coaching staff says they'd have no qualms about going to their fifth-team running back in the fall.

"I feel good about all of them," running backs coach Larry Brinson said. "If we come to a point where any of those guys would have to come in the game, I'd feel comfortable."

UK knows what it has in Locke, a first-team All-Southeastern Conference pick and one of the country's most versatile backs. Although fall camp has been physical, the coaching staff has been careful with its senior all-purpose weapon.

"Our goal is to get Derrick Locke to the game," he said. "We know he's a difference-maker. He's one of the few guys in our league or in college that can go 80 yards. Derrick Locke can go 80 yards. So why lose him on the practice field?"

With Locke closely monitored, the rest of UK's stable of backs has gotten plenty of work.

Sophomore Donald Russell missed some time early in camp because of injury, but he returned with a big performance in Tuesday's scrimmage and has nailed down the backup spot. Russell had a 79-yard touchdown run against Eastern last season and also looked good in the spring.

The guy that has everyone excited is freshman Raymond Sanders. Listed at 5-foot-8, 185, Sanders has impressed the coaches with his skills and ability to pick up the scheme.

"I haven't been around a freshman who picks things up as quickly as he has," Brinson said. "And he's not just picking things up mentally, either. He's making things happen on the field."

Locke took Sanders under his wing this summer, which sped up his learning curve.

"I try to be a student of the game," Sanders said. "I get on YouTube and watch a lot of highlights. I've always been able to catch on pretty fast. But Derrick's been a big part of it. Pretty much every time he goes out on the field I try to watch him and see what he does and try to do the same things and mirror him, really. He teaches me, he gets on me when I do wrong, and he congratulates me when I do right. I like that. He's like a big brother."

Though Locke and Sanders are similar in stature, they have different running styles, Brinson said. He compared the freshman to another Sanders, NFL Hall of Famer Barry.

"I'm not saying he's going to be Barry Sanders, but he runs in a similar way," Brinson said. "He can cut on a dime. Locke is more of a slasher with a lot of speed. Raymond is more of a side-to-side, cutback runner who can make guys miss. He's also very strong."

Another true freshman, Brandon Gainer, will also be part of the backfield plans. Gainer hasn't caught on quite as fast as Sanders, but the 5-11, 200-pound Miami native has shown the physical tools to help this year.

"Those two guys have got to play," Phillips said of Sanders and Gainer. "We're not going to be able to hold up with two backs. Or three backs. Somewhere along this season, we're going to have to use our fifth back. That's the way it is playing in the SEC, and playing with backs the size that we have. None of them are a real big, physical presence, so you have to line up and play with four of five of them throughout the year."

Sophomore walk-on CoShik Williams got 14 carries as a freshman last year and would also be called upon if needed.

UK lost perhaps the nation's best fullback in John Conner, but Phillips thinks senior Moncell Allen is more than capable of filling the role.

"John Conner was one of the best fullbacks to come through here, and his contributions won't be easily replaced," Phillips said. "But Moncell will be fine there. He can get the tough yards, catch the ball, and he'll definitely stick his nose in there and be physical as a blocker."