Sanders' role to expand this fall

Trying to figure out what position Theo Sanders plays can be quite confusing. As a freshman, he was moved from the defensive side of the ball to tight end. In the spring after his sophomore season, the coaching staff voted him the "Paul Crane Most Improved Offensive Lineman," despite the fact that he was listed at tight end.

And this spring, the Birmingham native has been lining up in the backfield in place of last year's starting fullback, Donnie Lowe, who's been out with a concussion. Confusing matters even more is the announcement that Sanders is not moving to fullback.

He's not staying at tight end, either, due to Dennis Franchione's creation of a new all-purpose, tight-end/fullback hybrid known as the W.

"Theo Sanders, I think, is doing a good job with the multiplicity of places we're placing him in formations," Franchione said. "And the way we're doing our personnel groupings it kinda disguises our formations a little bit."

Sanders is being counted on to fulfill different roles for this year's squad.

Both the coach and the player have been careful to point out that the new position is not a great change from last year. The only new skill Sanders has had to learn is how to take handoffs from the quarterback.

"I have to come outta the backfield as a fullback; sometimes that can be hard," Sanders said. "As you saw during the scrimmage, I was running high and getting blasted, so I gotta learn how to get down and run over the ball instead of getting run over by everybody."

Tight ends coach Mark Tommerdahl has been working with Sanders before practice to help him keep his shoulders lower when carrying the ball. While his technique isn't perfect yet, Sanders was able to rush for 18 yards and a touchdown on just two carries during Saturday's scrimmage.

He admits the change from tight end to W is a lot easier than when he changed from offense to defense.

"On the defensive side of the ball, it was just reaction, moving to the ball," Sanders said. "Offense, you gotta know what everybody's doing. You gotta know every aspect of the offense, so you can play with the team because one mistake on offense, and it's a busted play. One mistake on defense, somebody can still make a play."

Even with the slight change in his job description this year, Sanders is seen by many as the replacement for departing senior Terry Jones, Jr. After spending a year behind Jones, a first-team All-SEC selection by the league's coaches***, Sanders is ready to improve his numbers from last year, when he caught just one pass for 26 yards in the season's second game against Vanderbilt.

"I learned from TJ, so whatever TJ did, I believe I can do," Sanders said. "Not as good as he did it, but I can do it the way I can because he taught me, basically."

Sanders puts up his record hang clean earlier this spring.

He also confessed there is some pressure for him to perform now that Jones is gone.

"Now that he's gone, it's a little pressure," Sanders said. "Everybody's watching you. Ya know, you gotta be on your P's and Q's but I just gotta go out there and do what I been doin."

In the meantime, Sanders is excited about his new role in the offense, designed in part to take advantage of his physical gifts. The 248-pound Sanders currently holds four of the five weight room records for tight ends, including a 36-inch vertical jump.

There's even one formation where the 6-foot, 3-inch Sanders, a former high school track star, lines up as a wide receiver. Are there any limits to the soon-to-be-senior's athletic ability? What will he be doing next? Throwing option passes out of the backfield?

"No, I can't do that," Sanders said. "I can't throw the ball at all. No option pass from me."

In other words, you can call him a fullback, a tight end or even a W. Just don't call him a quarterback.


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