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Sanders serving as steady presence in fall camp

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Raymond Sanders rushed for 669 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics) Raymond Sanders rushed for 669 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
With almost every practice repetition, Raymond Sanders is likely to see a new face.

The senior running back is one of just a few players on the offensive side of the ball whom the coaches agree is the leader in the clubhouse to start at his position. Elsewhere, competition rules.

At quarterback, Maxwell Smith, Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips are sharing time. Along the offensive line, regular shuffling is the norm.

"You've just got to go with who's out there and make sure that they're giving maximum effort," Sanders said. "It's not going to be perfect, but as long as those guys are giving a hundred percent, we can fix those things that they're missing."

In a normal system, the onus would be on Sanders to serve as a steady, veteran presence in fall camp. In Neal Brown's Air Raid, running back becomes even more important.

Sanders and his fellow backs are called upon to work with the offensive line to call out protections, a responsibility that normally falls solely on the shoulders of the quarterback and center.

"We just have to be loud out there and make sure that with the different protections we remember how Coach (Brown) wants it done," Sanders said. "Even if we're making the wrong call, we have to make sure that we're communicating with the line to make sure that we're on the same page."

Sanders was a quick study in the new offense during the spring, but is now even more comfortable with his expanded responsibilities. Not only that, Sanders has transformed his physique in the winter, spring and summer before his final college season.

"I think he has it all," running backs coach Chad Scott said in March. "I think he's really the total package. I think he's done a great job taking care of his body to put himself in position to be as good as we need him to be."

The 5-foot-8, 187-pounder has also flashed capable hands over his first three years, catching 39 passes. His versatility, experience and leadership would seem to make him a logical fit to carry a heavy load in the first year of a new offense, but both Sanders and his coaches know success will take a lot more than one back.

"In this league or any league, it's going to take four or five running backs," Scott said. "Right now at this point, we've got four. Right now, they're healthy. We hope they stay that way, but it's a rough, physical league."

The four backs Scott refers to are Sanders, senior Jonathan George, sophomore Dyshawn Mobley and true freshman Jojo Kemp. Added to the mix on at least a part-time basis is freshman Ryan Timmons, who has moved between receiver and running back during fall camp. Though Sanders is the presumptive starter, competition continues.

There's no shortage of opportunity at this point, because the coaching staff continues to run grueling two-spot practices. The Wildcats are split into four teams and there is continual action on two fields.

"I've never been around this two-spot practice," Sanders said. "We all dread it every day. We come in and ask the coaches, 'I know we're not doing two-spot today.' But it just helps us get a lot of reps. We see the usefulness of it. It's helping our conditioning being able to play four, five, six plays back to back, getting fast to the line and getting back to the line and being able to play a hundred percent each play."

As demanding as the practices may be, they have served as an immersion of sorts for UK's less experienced runners.

"They're catching on, they're getting it down pat and they're studying in the film room," Sanders said. "And they're also asking questions, which is helping us. Once you see that they know they made a mistake, you know that they're gradually understanding what they're doing."

Sanders has been around long enough to know that UK, at some point or another, will need all the depth it can find. For that reason, competition is healthy.

"We're running hard, we're pushing each other and we're making each other better," Sanders said.

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