Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran announced to some surprise Tuesday that Sihiem King had earned the second-team running back spot ahead of A.J. Rose.
King, a junior, and Rose, a redshirt freshman, entered preseason camp as unknowns. Most of King’s work a year ago came on special teams as he recorded only 11 carries. Of King’s 81 rushing yards last season, 75 came in the last few minutes against Tennessee. Rose sat out last year as fellow freshman Benny Snell and junior Boom Williams split carries. Senior Jojo Kemp handled the rest.
Snell is Kentucky’s No. 1 backfield option, but King and Rose entered camp tied on the depth chart for the No. 2 spot. But they’re tied no more.
“He’s No. 2,” Gran said of King on Tuesday. “There’s no doubt about that right now.”
It sounds like King has performed better in camp to earn the spot, but there are a few takeaways.
First, King’s scatback style more closely fits what Williams gave the offense. Snell runs through tacklers while smaller running backs like Williams and King run around them. Gran might feel more comfortable with a similar complementary duo as he had last season. King is 5-foot-9 and 172 pounds compared to Rose at 6-foot-1 and 212 pounds.
Second, Rose is only a redshirt freshman. He hasn’t played a down of college football and is perhaps being unfairly compared to Snell, his classmate. Both were 3-star prospects from Ohio in Kentucky’s 2016 class. Rose sat out his first year while Snell rushed for more than 1,000 yards and collected a couple of UK rushing records.
Third, all three are going to play. Snell is going to get the bulk of the carries — barring an injury — but don’t be surprised if the split between King and Rose is even by the end of the season. If freshman Bryant Koback isn’t healthy, the Cats will have just three scholarship running backs in play.
Kemp, the No. 3 running back a year ago, recorded 70 carries. Snell’s carries will likely go up from the 186 he had a year ago. Neither King nor Rose will see as many snaps as Williams did (171), but both figure to play a big role in the run game.
King’s rise over Rose doesn’t mean the coaching staff is moving on from the redshirt freshman. Take what Gran said about Rose in the second week of preseason camp.
“He has continued to progress in the offense,” Gran said. “A lot less of the mental errors and you just keep seeing that athleticism pop out.”
If anything, Gran’s words on Tuesday might’ve been meant to motivate. And if that’s the case, Rose responded.
“Sleep on me if you want too!!” he tweeted Tuesday night.
Sleep on me if you want too!! 🔟
— Aj Rose (@asim_rose) August 22, 2017