Penn State RB Miles Sanders works out with Eagles
Former rusher-turned-assistant Duce Staley has molded Philadelphia’s running back room for the last six years. And on Friday, Staley started coaching up his next project: Penn State running back Miles Sanders.
On the first day of rookie minicamp, Sanders — wearing his No. 26 jersey for the first time — kicked off his career in Philadelphia. The former Nittany Lion high-stepped over pads, secured handoffs from Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson and pushed through resistance drills at the NovaCare Complex, all under the watchful eye of the Eagles coaching staff.
Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson offered a pointer or two as the second-round pick burst upfield in glorified walk-throughs. But it was Staley who was on Sanders all afternoon. The All-Big Ten back appreciated the feedback — which is a positive. He’ll likely be hearing Staley’s voice for the next four years.
“Coach Staley was really hard on me. But he wants the best out of me,” Sanders said Friday. “He loves talking ball. He gets excited. He’s real energetic, and he expects a lot out of the running backs. He believes the running backs are the best players on the field, and that’s how he coaches us. That’s the mentality for us.”
On Friday, “us” was Sanders, an undrafted free agent from Wyoming and three tryout running backs. But come May 21 — when Philadelphia’s OTAs begin — “us” will be those competing with Sanders for snaps: Jordan Howard, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams. The former Nittany Lion is looking forward to that challenge, too.
For the time being, though, Sanders is taking the next couple weeks to learn a largely foreign offense. In his three years at Penn State, the Nittany Lions operated in Joe Moorhead’s — and later Ricky Rahne’s — version of an RPO (run, pass, option) scheme. In Philly, Pederson and offensive coordinator Mike Groh run a pro-style system “with a little RPO” sprinkled in, Sanders said.
That will take some time getting used to, especially if Sanders lines up next to Carson Wentz instead of Thorson two weeks from now in OTAs — and, more importantly, next to the franchise quarterback come the fall.
But Pederson called this weekend’s minicamp a “great opportunity” for Sanders to come in and learn the Eagles’ playbook and terminology. And after Friday’s practice, the former five-star recruit spoke with a smile and subtle confidence.
“I’m prepared for what this whole month will be like,” Sanders said. “It’s going to be different with the veterans coming in. But I know what I’ve got to do. I know what I’ve got to focus on.”
What is it that Sanders has to focus on exactly? “Finishing plays, steps, formations, everything. Just being a professional,” according to the back.
That’s the way Staley coached past running backs like LeSean McCoy, Jay Ajayi and the rest. And it’s how Sanders will be drilled from here on out.
“I like being coached hard,” the former Nittany Lion said. “They expect you to do your job. It’s more serious now.”
Added Pederson: “He’s obviously talented. We’re excited to get him in here and get him going.”