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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky running backs coach Steve Pardue saw how injuries could impact his position last season during his first year in the Southeastern Conference and says developing depth at tailback is his top priority during spring practice before Saturdayâ€™s Blue-White Game. Pardue shared these insights on Kentuckyâ€™s running backs going into the final week of practice:
Question: How do you feel the running backs have done this spring?
Pardue: â€œThey are working really hard and Iâ€ˆhave been happy with their work ethic and attitude every day. We have a lot of areas to improve in like everybody else. CoShik Williams has been banged up a little bit (shoulder), but he has still got some reps in practice. Raymond Sanders has looked the best since I have been here. He is healthy. Last year he had a lot of issues going on health-wise. You can tell he feels better physically and because of that heâ€™s playing better. What a difference a year makes for D.J. Warren as a fullback.â€ˆHe came here really as a high school tailback learning to play fullback during the season last year, so his confidence is so much better right now. Understanding what to do, he can really play a lot faster and Iâ€ˆam really happy with his progress. Cody Jones, the backup walk-on fullback, continues to get better and better. So I feel good about those two guys. Tailback Jon George has had a good spring doing things for us. Derek Bishop and Chad Merida, two walk-on tailbacks, are doing a good job knowing their assignments and knowing what to do. It has been a good group to work with. Just have to get better.â€
Question: Will Warrenâ€™s role change or expand based on what he did last year and experience he gained?
Pardue: â€œI donâ€™t really know. That is yet to be determined a little bit, game planning. There will be games where he didnâ€™t get many snaps, then all of a sudden against Tennessee he gets about every offensive snap. That is going to be a role … and good thing about him is that he is a great kid and team guy. I am sure he wants to be out there every play, but he understands the personnel groups and different things. After practice, you canâ€™t tell if he played six plays or 46 because he just goes out there and works hard every day.â€
Question: Could he be a receiver out of the backfield?
Pardue: â€œYes. He has good hands and is a guy you want to use in that role. I am not sure he will not possibly grow into playing some tailback, too. We have talked about that just for depth because of what happened last year. When you get guys banged up in this league, you better have some guys ready to roll.â€
Question: What is the biggest difference with Sanders? Is he more explosive, quicker?
Pardue: â€œQuicker and has more explosion. He is healthy, so that makes a big difference. He had a really good offseason in the weight room. He has come back strong.â€
Question: Does anything change with Williams now that he has gone from a former walk-on to being No. 1 on depth chart?
Pardue: â€œNo. Thatâ€™s the way God wired him to go all out. That is why he is what he is. He has really good vision and he plays really hard and he plays with a lot of passion.â€
Question: Has Williams added weight?
Pardue: â€œHe has, but all of our guys have gotten stronger. That is something coach (Joker) Phillips wanted. He wanted the whole team to get bigger, stronger. Maybe not do as much running in the winter time to get bigger and stronger physically and it has paid off for us.â€
Question: What has George done specifically that you have liked?
Pardue: â€œHe is real dependable. I know what Iâ€ˆam going to get out of him every day. He has been here longer than Iâ€ˆhave and really understands what we are doing offensively. Iâ€ˆthink he has gotten better and better. As his confidence grows, he plays better.â€
Question: What has happened with Brandon Gainer?
Pardue: â€œYou need to ask coach Phillips that, not me.â€