Miles Sanders is quickly becoming the one player I am looking forward to watching the most when the Eagles host the Tennessee Titans in the first preseason game on Aug. 8.
Each practice Sanders has done a little bit more, as the Eagles build him back up from a hamstring issue that prevented him from participating in spring’s practice drills. And each practice Sanders looks better and better and more exciting, with his quick bursts and acceleration to the line as well as catching the ball out of the backfield.
“I knew earlier when camp started they were going to progress me and get more reps each and every day just to see how my hamstring is doing,” said Sanders following Wednesday’s practice. “I’ve been 100 percent, but they’re just trying to keep me safe and not throw me in there and re-injure it. Getting more reps each day going with the ones and stuff, making plays, everything feels good.”
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Who knows how many snaps Sanders will get against Tennessee, but he is looking forward to whatever the amount.
“I’m excited,” said Sanders. “I think that’s when it’s going to really hit me that I’m the NFL, going through that tunnel and throwing that jersey on and playing against the Titans. Everything I dreamed for is finally coming true.”
Wednesday’s practice was far less grueling and much shorter than Tuesday’s practice when the Eagles did several sessions of live hitting during intra-squad scrimmages and had plenty of highlights. The players did not wear pads on Wednesday and it was 10-10-10 practice, with several rotations of 10 scripted plays each for the offense, defense and special teams.
Two of Tuesday’s highlights were turned in by Sanders, who hammered in a run for a touchdown from about five yards away then caught a deep Carson Wentz pass off a wheel-route out of the backfield.
“We’ve been able to get him in there more.,” said offensive coordinator Mike Groh. “I think he's feeling good with his fitness level. I think he's getting more confident coming off the hamstring there in the spring.
“Again, he's just learning how to run our plays. But there have been some plays where you are standing at it from behind, you say, “Wow, that was a really good cut right there,” unique skill level in the hole and in a short area and being able to make quick cuts and then get vertical, and he's made some plays in the passing game down the field.
“I know it was [DE] Vinny [Curry] peeling out on him on the one down the field the other day, but it was still an over-the-shoulder catch.”
He has already shown enough that he has made a believer out of defensive end Brandon Graham. Graham loves what he has seen from Sanders, so far.
“That boy is a beast,” said Graham. “I like him. This dude you’re going to see. I don’t want to give out too much, I want to let it be a surprise to some, but I think that he does well at least keeping his shoulders square at the line of scrimmage and he has a burst about him and you can tell he wants to be great.”
Graham said it didn’t take long to see those qualities from the Penn State rookie runner who was drafted in the second round.
“You can just tell about what you watch, how he bursts through the line, you can just tell when some people got it and they don’t,” said Graham. “I think he’s all right.”
Sanders is still working on polishing his pass catching, which is something he didn’t much of at Penn State, but catching that wheel-route showed not only the ability he to catch, but to also track the ball in the air.
His game is far from perfect, but assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley rides Sanders every day. There are times when you can hear Staley’s voice hollering at Sanders.
“He likes to focus on the little things,” said Sanders. “I can do the whole play right, I could do the right route, do what I’m supposed to do, but certain things he’s going to coach on, that’s how Duce is, and that’s what makes him a great coach. He wants to be perfect.”
Sanders will never be perfect. No one is, especially a rookie running back, but he will play a role this season and do so sooner rather than later, starting in about a week in preseason game one.