Sanders, Sims emerge as surprises in Baylor backfield

August, 20, 2008
8/20/08
7:52
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

WACO, Texas -- Surprising performances from converted quarterback Jeremy Sanders and converted defensive back Ray Sims has help boost competition for playing time at running back for Baylor during the dog days of training camp.

With the graduation of leading 2007 rusher Brandon Whitaker, depth was lagging coming into the season. Jay Finley, the team's leading returning rusher after producing 207 yards as a redshirt freshman, was expected to get most of the carries coming into the summer.

Sanders and Sims both have made strong showings for playing time during training camp despite of their lack of experience at running back.

"Nobody knows what we can do," Sims said. "When we play, it will be a big surprise. I love this role. We're going to shock a lot of teams with our speed and our aggression."

Sanders passed for 2,252 yards in a two-year career as a starting quarterback at Navarro Junior College and was expected to challenge for playing time at the position for the Bears.

His churning inside running style has brought a physical style that compliments the bullish charges of 224-pound senior tailback Jacoby Jones.

"It's different, because as a quarterback, you drop back in the spread and you won't take much of a pounding," Sanders said about his position transition. "But when I get the ball as a running back, I run with a lot of power and speed. One miss and I can take it all the way to the house."

Baylor's glut of quarterbacks made it doubtful that Sanders would receive any playing time at the position. He decided to ask about a position switch after talking with Baylor coach Art Briles earlier in camp.

"I looked at the big picture," Sanders said. "And as far as me helping the team right away, I decided to ask him to get me on the field as quickly as possible. Running back gave me that opportunity."

Briles has incorporated a variety of roles for Sanders in his new offense as a rusher and a receiver. He's also incorporated a "slash package" where Sanders worked under center at times on direct snaps.

His emergence has been almost as big a surprise as that of Sims, a 210-pounder who played outside safety last year as a junior after transferring from Navarro College.

Sims has little experience at running back, seeing action there only for a few games as a senior at Corsicana High School. After that, he was primarily a defensive back and a player on special teams until this spring.

Running behind an experienced offensive line, Sims said that Baylor will feature more running than in previous seasons. The Bears averaged only 77.8 yards rushing per game last season -- 113th nationally and 11th in the Big 12 -- while utilizing Guy Morriss' spread offense last season.

"I think the offense has changed. We get a lot of carries and our offense is pretty balanced. A lot of people think we are just going to throw it, but it's going to be a surprise to people how much we run," Sims said.

All four backs are expected to see action next week against Wake Forest, Briles said.

"You've got to have more than one guy in Division I-A ball and we'll use all four of them," Briles said. "We like to have a lot of depth and these guys can play. They're good football players. Ray Sims is a good athlete and Jeremy Sanders is a good athlete. We've got to find ways to help them help our team."

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