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PHILADELPHIA — Miles Sanders enjoyed one of the most productive rookie seasons in the NFL last season.
The Eagles running back leapfrogged names such as LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson in the franchise’s record books, and he topped the class in categories such as scrimmage yards and all-purpose yards.
But when it came to postseason awards, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa and Raiders running back Josh Jacobs took home the hardware. Sanders, despite helping lift an Eagles team left for dead to an NFC East title, flew under the radar.
Sanders wants to change that in 2020. After sitting out his team’s Week 1 loss at the Washington Football Team with a hamstring injury, the former Penn State and Woodland Hills standout said he’s “ready to go” and feels 100% for Sunday’s Week 2 game against the Rams. And he wants to make a significant impact.
“Personally, my main goal is just to get respect,” Sanders said on a Zoom call Friday. “I want to be noticed as one of those top backs because I believe I am, and I believe I will be. And that just comes with me just grinding every day, just staying to myself and being humble and just working hard every day, and I know all that stuff will pay off, and Sunday, just let it loose.”
Sanders rushed for 818 yards last season, which broke McCoy’s rookie record. Sanders recorded 1,327 scrimmage yards, which broke Jackson’s rookie record. He totaled 1,641 all-purpose yards last season, which broke Heman Hunter’s rookie record.
But Sanders still didn’t get the accolades Murray or Bosa or Jacobs or even Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown got on the national stage. Maybe it was his position. Maybe it was because of the notable strides forward quarterback Carson Wentz took down the stretch, or maybe it was because the Eagles struggled for much of the year.
Either way, Sanders is ready for Year 2, in which he is expected to carry the load in the Eagles backfield
“Just more disciplined in the run game, just trying to be that more complete back in the run game,” Sanders said. “Showed a lot of glimpses of what I can do outside of the backfield, just trying to tighten up my run game more, being more decisive and downhill and more effective, and just getting positive yards for our offense, so we can just keep rolling.”
The Eagles missed Sanders in Week 1. Fellow running backs Boston Scott, Corey Clement and Jason Huntley combined to average 3.4 yards per carry in the loss, and none of the three could make plays on his own once Wentz started struggling.
Sanders showed he can make things happen with the ball in his hands, and if he can provide a consistent threat in the backfield, it should make things a little easier for Wentz and the rest of the Eagles offense.
Plus, some Eagles have hinted at an expanded involvement of the running backs in the passing game, which is a phase of the game where Sanders already acquitted himself well last season with 509 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
The Eagles also missed Sanders’ pass blocking. He made significant strides in that phase of the game under assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley last season, and a couple of the eight sacks allowed by the Eagles last season were on the running backs in pass protection.
Sanders credited his college career for his ability to excel there.
“I want to give most of my credit to Penn State,” Sanders said. “I did a lot of pass blocking at Penn State. We didn’t just run the ball and catch the ball and stuff. We really took pass protecting seriously as running backs, as far as Penn State. So I was used to it. We couldn’t be on the field unless we protect the quarterback.
“It’s a big part of my game. I can’t play unless I protect 11. So my job is just to be dialed in, locked in with the offensive line and just keep that pocket as solid as possible for 11 so we can just keep rolling and be the offense that I know we can be.”
Sanders said he felt like he could have played last week after he suffered a hamstring injury in camp. But the team decided to sit him for another week, and Sanders framed it as the Eagles would rather have him for 15 games instead of one game.
Now that he’s healthy, he wants to pick up where he left off last season when he helped lift the team to a division title.
“Whatever’s in the best interest for me and for the team,” Sanders said, “I’m ready to do whatever.”
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