Locke has faith in supporting cast

Derrick Locke has been making UK head coach Joker Phillips’ decisions easy.

During the Southeastern Conference Football Media Days in July, Locke pegged Mike Hartline as the favorite to win the starting quarterback position.

More recently, the senior tailback wasn’t coy about his thoughts on who should win the job to be his backup.

“(Donald) Russell’s been making plays for a while now, he’s been looking really good,” said Locke, who enters the season ranked 10th on the UK career rushing list. “I feel like he’s got the No. 2 spot sewed up right now. I would feel comfortable with him coming in and making plays, just as well any other guy that needs to step in.”

Russell, a sophomore, highlights what many consider to be the deepest group of backs in recent years.

Despite playing in only five games last year, Russell finished with 13 carries for 137 yards, including a 79-yard scamper against Eastern Kentucky. Then he stole the show in the spring with a 118-yard, two-touchdown performance in the annual Blue/White spring game.

Redshirt freshman Jonathan George also had a strong spring camp and incoming freshman tailbacks Brandon Gainer and Raymond Sanders have been making huge strides during fall camp, Phillips said.

Senior Moncell Allen will have the task of replacing John Conner, now with the New York Jets, at fullback.

Still, Russell said he does not view the competition at running back as merely a chance to be a backup.

“I’m trying to get where Derrick Locke’s at,” Russell said. “He’s the No. 1 back, so I’m competing for the No. 1 position.”

The young tailbacks have all looked to Locke as a mentor.

“(Locke’s) very helpful,” Russell said. “Most people think that because he’s No. 1 he won’t tell you and try to keep a few secrets back, but he tells me everything because there’s going to be a time where he’s going to be tired or he may have an injury and he needs someone to help.”

Sanders said he has noticed the many parallels between himself and Locke.

“We’re pretty much similar,” Sanders said. “Both fast, both shifty, but we also run with pride, so we lower our shoulders…and we just like to get to the end zone.”

Locke agreed that Sanders is similar to when he came in as an unheralded freshman and a “little scat back” that learned the offense quickly, got involved in the passing game and wasn’t afraid to drop the shoulder and barge into the defense.

“The thing I like about (Sanders) is that he likes to learn, he wants to learn,” Locke said.

Conversely, Locke said Russell’s running style offers a different kind of dimension to the offense.

“(Russell) is a lot bigger than me, he’s more of a make-a-guy-miss kind of runner,” Locke said. “He’s the type of guy that wants to make you look silly, he’ll make the whole team look silly if he has to…he needs to learn to make one move and get north and south.”

Locke, who has sustained multiple injuries during his time at UK, said that he is healthy and that there is no need for concerns. Instead, he wants to focus on the weapons in the backfield.

“We got some backs that can make things happen, so making plays isn’t nothing that’s going to be a concern when it comes to running the ball, that’s going to be our strong point of the offense, I feel,” Locke said.

Quick hits: running backs

Probable Starters

Tailback: Derrick Locke

Fullback: Moncell Allen

Who to keep an eye on:

Donald Russell: The sophomore tailback impressed in spring camp and is looking for a breakout year that should include more carries than his 13 a year ago.

Biggest question:

Will the added depth at tailback ensure Locke can avoid injury and stay rested so he is capable of performing at his highest level?