JACKSONVILLE — Miles Sanders was happy with how he ran the ball Thursday night.
He really started beaming when he was asked about his blocking.
Sanders, the rookie second-round pick from Penn State, showed off his improvement as a blocker on Clayton Thorson’s TD pass to Greg Ward.
The Eagles went for it on 4th-and-4 from Jacksonville’s 38-yard-line on the second play of the second quarter, and the Jags sent linebacker Joe Giles-Harris up the middle on a blitz.
Thorson stood in the pocket and Sanders stood up Giles-Harris, giving the rookie quarterback time to heave the ball toward Ward, who caught it just inside the 20 and weaved his way through traffic for a 38-yard touchdown.
It was precisely the type of play a rookie running back has to make if he wants playing time.
We all know Sanders can scoot.
If he can pick up the blitz like he did Thursday night? He’s going to play a ton.
I get excited when I pick up blitzes and pick up the right guys," Sanders said after the game. "I feel like I’m getting better at that. As far as knowing where the blitz is coming from and knowing the calls that I got, I think I’m pretty good at that. It’s just technique I have to work on though. I feel like I’m decent at that and getting better every day.
Ward wasn’t aware of Sanders' blitz pickup until after the game, but he said he wasn’t surprised.
Ward and Sanders’ lockers are near each other at the NovaCare Complex, and Ward says he’s been really impressed with the 22-year-old’s progress and just how seriously he takes the blocking aspect of his job.
“It says a lot,” Ward said. “He’s already doing a good job in that area, focused in on it and trying to get better. That’s what you want in a rookie.”
Sanders also had a couple runs Thursday night that showed everybody why the Eagles are so high on him.
“Felt like I was more patient back there, felt like I was more comfortable,” he said. “Thought it was a good day.”
On the first play of the game, Sanders darted up the middle for 12 yards, and later in the first quarter, running from the Eagles’ 5-yard-line, he ran 16 yards to open what would be a 95-yard TD drive.
On the 12-yarder, he showed tremendous vision and acceleration, reading the hole and cutting back inside for extra yards.
On the 16-yard run, he ran behind a big block by rookie left tackle Andre Dillard. Interesting to note that he was first hit on the 9-yard-line but dragged cornerback Tre Herndon and defensive tackle Eli Ankou all the way down to the 21-yard-line. That’s 12 yards after first contact, and that’s huge.
Just showing I can break tackles and I can get yac, yards after contact,” he said. “That’s big in this league. That’s what separates the average running backs from the great running backs. Just getting extra yards and keeping the play alive.
Sanders was 3-for-3 rushing in the preseason opener against the Titans and really never had any room to work.
Sanders only got five carries this time but netted 31 yards — all in the first quarter. The Ward TD was his 11th and final play of the night.
O-line blocked their ass off, just making them look good, that’s what it’s all about,” Sanders said. “Just being patient out there and doing everything Duce (Staley) tells me. I’d say I’ve come a long way since the offseason, absolutely. All I can really say is that I’m working every day. Come in here and work.
Since Chip Kelly jettisoned LeSean McCoy after the 2014 season, the Eagles have had a different leading rusher every year: DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, LeGarrette Blount and Josh Adams.
Right now, Adams is the only one in that group who’s even in the league, and he’s fighting an uphill battle for a roster spot.
Offseason pickup Jordan Howard is an accomplished player and a former Pro Bowler. But when it comes to getting truly excited about an Eagles running back?
It’s been a little while. And Sanders sure seems ready to end that drought.
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