Eagles' rookie RB Miles Sanders already off to good start with Duce Staley

Eagles' rookie RB Miles Sanders already off to good start with Duce Staley

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.

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NFL Week 15 schedule: Derrick Gunn's 5 games to watch

NFL Week 15 schedule: Derrick Gunn's 5 games to watch

Here are my games to watch for in Week 15 of the NFL season:

Bears at Packers — Sunday, 1 p.m. on FOX
The Bears are growling again. They have three straight wins and are playing like a playoff team. The only problem is their many stumbles along the way have them at just 7-6, and currently the No. 8 seed in the NFC playoff pitcure. They travel to Green Bay with revenge on their minds, still remembering the season-opening loss to the Packers. That the Packers are 10-3 — currently the No. 2 seed in the NFC — is amazing in itself. Defensively, they stop either the run or the pass but never both in a game. Offensively, they don’t score a lot of points and rarely win impressively, but the bottom line is more times than not they have found a way to win. First-year head coach Matt LeFleur has his squad believing in his system. The Pack will rack up their 11th W at Lambeau.

Texans at Titans — Sunday, 1 p.m. on CBS

One team is exciting by land, the other by air. Houston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins gives defenses fits weekly. Tennessee RB Derrick Henry is a battering ram. These two are currently tied for the lead in the AFC South but after getting blasted by Denver last week, Houston is still in control based on best win percentage in division games. The Titans are currently the No. 7 seed. Since QB Ryan Tannehill replaced Marcus Mariota after Week 6, the Titans have won six of their last seven and four in a row. Houston has the capability of rising up for big games with wins over the Patriots and Chiefs, but the Titans are hot, and I’m going with the hot team at home. Side note: They'll meet again Week 17.

Vikings at Chargers — Sunday, 4:05 p.m. on CBS

The only thing the Chargers have left to play for is pride and the Vikings are jockeying for better seeding and a possible division title. Under Mike Zimmer, the Vikings have not fared well when traveling west, sporting a 1-6 record in road games played in the Mountain or Pacific time zones. Two of the Chargers' five wins have come against the NFC North. The Vikings' defense is starting to jell again and they’ll need cohesiveness on D because Philip RIvers' offense can light it up at any given moment. The Vikings know what’s at stake — it wont be easy, but they’ll find a way to get the job done.

Rams at Cowboys — Sunday, 4:25 p.m. on FOX

Don’t look now, but the Rams are starting to play like the team that represented the NFC in last season’s Super Bowl. They’ve won three in a row with the offense functioning like a well-oiled machine and the defense making plays. As for Dallas, fans are calling for heads to roll, starting with head coach Jason Garrett. They’ve lost three straight and haven’t beaten a quality opponent all season. With that said, they somehow still control the NFC East. They have the the talent all over the field, yet don’t have the wins to show for it. What should have been a promising season will be a disaster if they don’t find a way to rebound and make the playoffs. Sorry, Dallas, until you prove otherwise, you’re just not ram tough enough to win this one.

Bills at Steelers — Sunday, 8:20 p.m. on NBC

Just when it looked like Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin would have to endure his first losing season in Pittsburgh, his squad has risen from the ashes. A team that was 1-4 at one point is now 8-5, riding a three-game winning streak, and currently the sixth seed in the AFC. What’s even more impressive is that Tomlin is using his third QB of the season. Rookie free agent Devlin “Duck” Hodges has been on the winning side on all three of his starts. The defense has tightened the loose gaps and is playing 'Burgh ball. The Bills have been writing an incredible story of their own. They are currently the fifth seed and just one game behind New England in the AFC East. Buffalo is striving for its first 10-win season since 1999. It will also be Buffalo’s first Sunday night appearance in 12 years. Two good defenses in this one. Two teams hoping to move one step closer to solidifying a playoff spot. This one has the makings of a brass knuckles brawl with the Steelers delivering the final knockout blow.

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Here comes wide receiver Robert Davis … to save the day?

Here comes wide receiver Robert Davis … to save the day?

He’s big, he’s fast, he’s strong. 

Can he play? Who knows? I guess we’ll find out on Sunday. 

Meet Robert Davis. He’s the 6-foot-3, 210-pound receiver who once ran a 4.44 at the combine and tested through the roof. He’s also the receiver whom the Eagles called up from their practice squad earlier this week after even more injuries at the position. 

It’s probably unfair to expect a 24-year-old receiver with four career games and one career catch under his belt to suddenly cure all the Eagles’ ails at wide receiver. But here we are.  

I tweeted that video on Thursday and most of the responses were hilarious. Some were tongue-in-cheek, like suggesting that since he caught a ball the Eagles should sign him a long-term deal. But some were genuine — in that, hey, here’s a guy with an impressive frame and possibly some untapped potential. Heck, it’s gotten so bad at receiver, he’ll surely help, right? 

Last week’s 23-17 win over the Giants should be remembered as the practice squad game because three guys — Boston Scott, Josh Perkins and Greg Ward Jr. — all played a big part of the victory and all three were on the practice squad less than two months earlier. 

So … on one hand, Davis uses that as encouragement. Hey, if they can do it, so can I. 

On the other hand, maybe there are now some unfair and unrealistic expectations on just how big of an impact Davis will be able to have in his first game with the Eagles. 

“We’re all competitors,” Davis said. “That’s why we’re in the NFL. Seeing [Ward] go out there and have success, I want to go out there and have success, too.”

The Redskins saw that potential in Davis when they drafted him in the sixth round out of Georgia State back in 2017. It’s pretty easy to see why they used a pick on him. 

Despite his athleticism, Davis split time between the 53-man roster and the practice squad as a rookie and then broke his leg in 2018. Davis came back in 2019 but didn’t play much and eventually got cut. He’s been with the Eagles since he signed to the practice squad on Oct. 7. 

This weekend, Davis will play his first game as an Eagle and it’ll come against his former team in Washington. He’s as excited about that as Eagles fans are about seeing him play. 

And if you want to get even more over-hyped about Davis, here’s what his former Redskins and current Eagles teammate Nate Sudfeld said about him last month: 

He’s a freak of nature. He’s got muscles on top of muscles. Definitely looks the part of a big, freak wide receiver, and he plays big. He’s got speed, really good at running routes, he’s smart. He’s got a bright future, definitely.

Maybe Davis will just have a short stay on the Eagles’ active roster. Maybe he won’t even be able to make an impact. But, for now, it’s fun for fans to dream about finding another diamond in in the practice squad. 

After his call-up, Davis took over a real locker stall at the NovaCare Complex, moving up from the pop-up variety. While he’s listed as Robert on the roster, his nameplate said Rob. 

What does he prefer? 

“My mom named me Robert,” he said. “I go by Rob for my homeboys.”

You can decide what to call him after watching Sunday’s game.  

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