Sanders likes progress of young running backs

Kentucky's first scrimmage of fall camp yielded just about what offensive coordinator Randy Sanders has come to expect of those events over the years.

Kentucky's first scrimmage of fall camp yielded just about what offensive coordinator Randy Sanders has come to expect of those events over the years.

"It was a typical first scrimmage," Sanders said. "There's always a million things that need correcting. Fortunately, they are things that can be corrected."

Many anticipated possible news on the starting quarterback position – primarily a battle between sophomore Maxwell Smith and senior Morgan Newton – but that competition remains a question mark as the Wildcats entered a new week of practice.

"I thought for the most part the quarterbacks were doing a good job of knowing where to go with the ball," Sanders said. "Their eyes were in the right place. I thought we had some receivers who have made a lot of strides since last fall. We've still got some work to do with both of those, quarterbacks and receivers, and we've got to get our tight ends all healthy and back to doing the right things all the time and being a factor, but I liked a lot of what I saw."

The state of the UK offense has been a primary area of concern for fans during the off-season. The Wildcats struggled royally to move the ball consistently and score points during their 5-7 campaign. Kentucky ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in scoring offense (15.8) and total offense (259.8), the latter which ranked 118th out of 120 FCS programs.

Asked if he feels like the offense is ahead of where it was at this time last year in camp, Sanders said: "I think we're way ahead in some areas, and probably behind in some other areas.

"We don't have the experience in the offensive line we had last year, so we're not quite at the same speed there. But we've got two quarterbacks who have played a lot, so we're ahead of the game in that area. We've got some young receivers who have played. They have progress to make, but they're doing a good job. And, obviously, we've got running backs who have got experience and know what games are like, so we're able to go out and simulate it better than we could last year."

The veteran running backs aren't the only ones who have impressed the UK staff. Freshmen Dyshawn Mobley and Justin Taylor have been drawing rave reviews for their hard running.

"They have a huge opportunity in front of them," Sanders said. "We have some guys – Raymond Sanders, Coshik Williams, Jonathan George – who have played, but at the same time, (the freshmen) are bigger, more physical. They definitely hit the line of scrimmage with a lot of punch."

Mobley (5-11, 223) set Tennessee's single-season rushing records with 3,068 yards and 48 touchdowns as a senior at Powell High School. Taylor (5-10, 215) was considered one of the nation's top running back prospects and originally committed to Alabama prior to his senior season at North Atlanta High School, but injured a knee in September and wound up signing with the Cats after the Crimson Tide approached him about grayshirting. He rushed for approximately 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior.

Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips lauded the duo Monday for the way they "move the pile" when they run and suggested that both will be on the field this season in some capacity.

But how much?

"Usually determined by how quickly they pick up (pass) protections and how fast they can adjust," Sanders said. "I like what they're doing when they've got the ball under their arms, the way they hit the line of scrimmage when they've got the ball under their arms. I just need them to hit a linebacker a little bit more often in pass protection."

Mobley and Taylor bring a different look to the UK offense that the Cats haven't featured since the bruising Artose Pinner led the SEC in rushing with 1,414 yards in 2002.

"You always try to utilize guys to their strengths," Sanders said. "If you've got Derrick Locke, who was OK running inside but was pretty dynamic getting on the edge, you try to design things to get backs on the edge a little more.

"One thing we haven't had really in several years is backs who could move the pile. It's been really since before I got here that Kentucky had a back like that. It's nice to have those guys. We're not going to totally revamp our offense based on what they can do, but they do bring another dimension that people haven't had to defend as much against us."


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