Just one NFL practice under his belt and Eagles running back Miles Sanders was already sure he’s going to get along just fine with running backs coach Duce Staley.
Here’s one guess how he knew:
“[Staley] was very hard on me,” Sanders said. “Wants the best out of me.”
On Friday, the first day of the Eagles’ three-day rookie minicamp, Sanders said Staley’s emphasis was on finishing plays. Practices can be long, players might be tired by the end of them, but Sanders needs to finish strong. That was something he was prepared to focus on for Day 2.
Even during the portion of practice open to reporters, just minutes into the first session, Staley was seen giving 1-on-1 instruction to Sanders and critiquing his form as a runner and returner. Sanders admitted he needs to get used to Staley’s coaching style, but it shouldn’t be too hard. He said his high school running backs coach and both running backs coaches at Penn State — Ja’Juan Seider and Charles Huff — were also very hard on him.
Coming into the NFL, the newly-turned 22-year-old expected nothing less.
It’ll be good. I liked being critiqued real hard. I don’t like being comfortable. I’ve said that [before]. He’s very critical with the things we do. He focuses on the little things like finishing plays when we get the ball, focusing on steps, formations, just knowing what we need to do and just be a professional.
Sanders figured all that out on Day 1.
Staley, who played for the Eagles and Sanders’ hometown Steelers, has been the Eagles’ running backs coach since 2013. In Staley’s first two years as RBs coach, LeSean McCoy had Pro Bowl seasons and was arguably the best running back in the NFL. But in the years after Shady was traded and before the Eagles drafted Sanders, the Eagles had invested just two draft picks in the running back position: They took Wendell Smallwood in the fifth round in 2016 and Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round of 2017.
Using a second-round pick on Sanders is the biggest draft investment the Eagles have made at running back since they took Shady at the same No. 53 pick 10 years ago. While Staley had “assistant head coach” added to his title last season, it seems likely his best chance of advancing in the coaching world might come elsewhere. Making Sanders into a great player could be his crowning achievement before moving on.
But maybe we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.
After all, we’re just a few rookie practices in. The veterans won’t even join the rookies at OTAs until May 21.
“This is a great opportunity for Miles,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “No. 1, to come in and really begin to understand I think our playbook and the terminology. The footwork may be different than what he's used to. He's obviously talented, and we're excited to get him in here and going.
“Duce Staley is going to work with these guys every day like we've been doing in phase two. Once we get out of rookie camp next week, still finish up phase two and we get our rookies in with us and get to spend more time with them next week. It will be valuable for them leading up to OTAs.”
In Philadelphia, Sanders will join a running back room that includes Jordan Howard, Corey Clement, Smallwood and Boston Scott. He thinks they all have complementary skills.
Sanders actually got to meet Howard in passing on Thursday. If anyone prevents the rookie from getting on the field this season, it’ll be Howard, for whom the Eagles traded earlier this offseason. Since Howard is new to the Eagles’ locker room too, he filled Sanders in, saying everyone is really laid back and just takes care of their work.
In the two weeks between getting drafted and reporting to Eagles rookie camp, Sanders was back in Pittsburgh working out. On Friday, as he stood at his locker — which was occupied by Golden Tate last season — Sanders said the moment was still “surreal.”
“It didn’t hit me,” Sanders said, “until I got here and got my helmet, like, ‘Dang, I really got drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.’”
Yeah, that really happened. And his career in Philly is already off to a fast start.
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.