UK Football

Veteran RB Sanders adapting quickly to new Kentucky offense

UK running back Raymond Sanders III  at practice  on Wednesday March 27, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
UK running back Raymond Sanders III at practice on Wednesday March 27, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

For all the buzz about Kentucky football's return to an "Air Raid" offense, there is plenty to be expected out of the running backs.

The early leader in spring drills is Raymond Sanders III.

Neal Brown, UK's offensive coordinator, says so.

For one, Sanders is ahead in blitz protection. Blitz protection from a 5-foot-8, 199-pounder?

Sanders explained his blocking ability by citing running backs coach Chad Scott.

"Coach always jokes around about, when he was in high school, he was 6 feet. But once he started doing pass protection, he got down to like 5-6, 5-7," Sanders said after Friday's scrimmage at the Nutter Training Center.

"Just staying low," he said. "I'm a small guy, so I've got to try to get under those guys. ... Those guys try to bull-rush me, and I've just got to make sure I'm using the proper technique. I'm definitely not going to be afraid to stick my nose in there because I've got to protect the quarterback and make sure that he's able to help us make plays, and keep him healthy."

Sanders, from Stone Mountain, Ga., led the Wildcats in rushing last season with 669 yards and five touchdowns. He averaged 5.4 yards a carry.

He and Jonathan George combined for nearly 1,100 yards and nine TDs on the ground last season.

Then there's Dyshawn Mobley, who "ran the ball super-hard today," Brown said after Friday's scrimmage.

Fellow sophomore Josh Clemons, coming off a knee injury, went full-contact. "He's rusty," Brown said, "but he showed some signs."

Redshirt freshman Justin Taylor makes it five scholarship players competing at running back.

But Sanders has the edge.

UK backs now are responsible for making protection calls at the line of scrimmage, and Brown says Sanders has "probably got a little better grasp on it."

"It's been a really smooth transition for me," Sanders said. "In the last offense, I knew most of the calls. It was the quarterbacks making it, but I knew those calls and was helping those guys out sometimes. ... This is simpler than the last offense, so making the calls is a lot simpler.

"It's not difficult. You've just got to know what you're doing and study, so that's what I've been trying to do."

Sanders says he's excited about the new offensive scheme. He knows there will be plenty of chances to run. Just look at Texas Tech, where Brown coached last year. Three Red Raiders ran for 450 or more yards.

"I feel like this is a spread style that I can fit in, that I'll get in space and make some guys miss, and take it to the house," Sanders said.

Linebacker Avery Williamson, for one, believes.

"He's a handful back there," Williamson said. "He got me one time today, showed me up a little bit.

"He definitely fits well in this offense. He's short and you really can't see him behind the offensive linemen, like on screens and different draw plays. So he fits very well."

Sanders got a kick out of hearing Williamson's account of Friday's "gotcha" run.

"It was a stretch play," Sanders said. "He shot the gap, I gave him a little stutter-step and he fell. So ... I had to do something so he wouldn't run through me."

As long as he can do that, Sanders may be able to keep his edge.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader