Raymond Sanders in Kentucky spotlight

Raymond Sanders in Kentucky spotlight

July 26th, 2013 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Times Free Press file photo Kentucky senior tailback Raymond Sanders is expected to be the early focal point of coordinator Neal Brown's up-tempo offense.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

KENTUCKY

Camp start: Aug. 5

Opener: Western Kentucky in Nashville (ESPNews at 7 p.m. EDT)

Fun fact: Kentucky's spring game crowd of 50,831 topped last year's season average of 49,691 at Commonwealth Stadium.

Coming Saturday: LSU

Everybody leans on Raymond, especially coaches and players on Kentucky's rebuilding football team.

The Wildcats scored the fewest points in the Southeastern Conference last season, averaging 17.9 points a game and 11.1 in league contests. Mark Stoops is the new coach and Neal Brown the new offensive coordinator, and each is hoping senior tailback Raymond Sanders can be the dependable primary weapon until a quarterback competition is settled.

"We're going to need to lean on him along with some other running backs in order to take some pressure off what we're trying to do," Stoops said last week at SEC media days. "We know it's going to be very difficult just to drop back and try to throw the ball every down in this league, so I think Raymond is going to play a very important role for us in our offense."

Sanders rushed for 669 yards and 5.4 yards a carry last season for a team that defeated only Kent State and Samford in a 2-10 disappointment. He compiled 115 yards against Kent State and 123 against Samford, but his high against the stiffer SEC opposition was 72 against Georgia.

The 5-foot-8, 187-pounder from Stone Mountain, Ga., said he's ready for the challenging obstacles ahead, having long ago quieted those critics who claimed he was not SEC material.

"Everyone was always telling me I was too small, but everyone was going to say what they wanted to say," Sanders said at media days. "My mom always told me that it's not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog, so I'm not scared of anyone."

Sanders will compete in Brown's up-tempo offense that has moved to Lexington after three seasons at Texas Tech under Tommy Tuberville. In Brown's time with the Red Raiders, they ranked among the nation's top seven teams in passing offense, the top 15 in total offense and the top 25 in scoring offense.

Texas Tech last season averaged 355.9 passing yards, 495.4 offensive yards and 37.5 points per game.

"I like to be used in a lot of ways, like [former West Virginia receiver] Tayvon Austin, and I think this is an offense that I will be able to make plays in," Sanders said. "I love the new offense. It fits me well, and I think I'll be able to catch and run."

The big question is which sophomore quarterback -- Jalen Whitlow, Maxwell Smith or Patrick Towles -- gives Sanders those opportunities. Freshman early enrollee Reese Phillips of Signal Mountain also may have a say in the quarterback derby.

Smith produced the best numbers of the three returning quarterbacks last season, completing 103 of 150 passes for 975 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions, but Whitlow had the best spring.

"No matter who it is, I definitely want to make their job easier," Sanders said.

Sanders was a three-star recruit out of Stephenson High who jumped at the opportunity to go to Kentucky, which was the only SEC or ACC school that offered him a scholarship. His best game as a freshman in 2010 came against Georgia, when he had 79 rushing yards and 77 receiving yards in a 44-31 loss.

A knee injury early in his sophomore season limited him to six games.

"I think I've had a pretty decent career so far," he said. "I had a lot of injuries my sophomore year, and last year I was able to stay a little more healthy. I still have a lot to prove, and I still want to leave a mark like Randall [Cobb] and Derrick [Locke] and some of those guys."

Said Stoops: "He's a guy who can make you miss, and I think he will be very good in this style of offense. He catches the ball well, and we need to get him in space. I'm excited about Raymond."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.