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Confident Freshman RB: Arkansas' Rocket Sanders Impresses Teammates

One of the players making headlines with the Razorbacks' scoreboard-busting offense is a freshman running back who's earned respect early

KJ Jefferson's emergence at quarterback is just part of Arkansas' suddenly potent offense.

A big part of that is freshman running back Raheim "Rocket" Sanders.

He's got just 324 yards rushing, but is second among a large group of good running backs in carries and is getting the respect of the older guys on the team.

"It’s fun watching a running back run so hard," sixth-year offensive lineman Ty Clary said after Tuesday's practice. "He’s quick, he’s big, he’s running over guys, he’s not afraid of contact. He’s just a fun guy to watch right now."

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Sanders originally committed to the Razorbacks as a wide receiver. That didn't make it through spring because coach Sam Pittman wanted that size and speed at running back.

It worked pretty well.

Especially after running backs coach Jimmy Smith got him to quit trying to break everything outside where he can use his speed and just go north and south.

The Hogs' zone blocking gives the backs options with which hole opens up first.

"It’s really simple," Pittman said Monday. "But it’s hard to get in a young running back unless you rep it all the time."

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But the one thing that gets running backs' respect around the Hogs is blocking. Pittman loves that about Dominique Johnson ... and Sanders picked up on that.

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He likes it, too. Pittman said that's the key for running backs.

"It’s actually better in the backfield blocking because outside doing the receiver job — at outside receiver or inside receiver — you’ve got to go to the man and meet him," Sanders said. "In the backfield you can wait, then attack. In the backfield I feel like it’s way better than it is at receiver."

He's not through trying to get better, though.

"I’ve got some more stuff to work on, like pass pro and catching the ball," Sanders said. "I catch the ball good, but on certain plays and certain things I feel like I can do more and give more, and that’s with everything I do."

He's got folks' attention. Even another sixth-year senior on the other side of the ball, Grant Morgan, picked up on it back in the spring.

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"He’s an SEC back," Morgan said Tuesday. "He’s got really good speed, but he can run downhill. He runs really hard and doesn’t go down usually with the first guy being able to get there with him.

"We don’t do a lot of live tackling all the way down to the ground right now, but when we thud him up we feel him."

But the best thing of all?

He's just a freshman.


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