In the last two seasons, Miles Sanders and Duce Staley became incredibly close, to the point where Sanders began to think of Staley as a fatherly figure.
So it wasn’t easy for Sanders when Staley moved on this offseason.
“It’s definitely difficult,” Sanders said this spring. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t.”
The Eagles’ new running backs coach, Jemal Singleton, isn’t Duce Staley. And, wisely, he’s not trying to be.
Because Duce had been in Philly for two decades as a player and as a coach and was incredibly well-respected. There are obviously plenty of folks inside the NovaCare Complex — players, coaches, front office personnel, etc — who still love him. So Singleton has taken a very pragmatic approach as he takes over the running back room.
And it seems to be working.
“One of the things that I always do and it doesn’t matter where I’m at, what city, what room it is: I just start with their tape,” Singleton said this week. “And I truly go through each and every one of their carries or their receptions, their pass blocking. And what I try to come up with is some things of: How can I help them get better? Really that’s what I present to players when we meet. ‘Hey, these are some things that I’ve seen on tape, these are things I love, that I think you do awesome. These are some thing that I think I can help you improve on.’”
While guys like Kenny Gainwell and Kerryon Johnson never played for Staley, the other players on the roster — Sanders, Boston Scott, Jordan Howard, etc. — did play for Staley and grew close to him.
With Staley now in Detroit, Singleton’s approach since arriving in Philly has been to simply earn the trust of his players by showing them what he can offer.
“I think that’s the part about NFL players; when they see you can help them get better, that’s what’s important,” he said. “Earning their respect, earning their trust and just showing that I have a knowledge of the game. And at the end of the day, I can help them become better players.”
Like Staley, Singleton also has the added title of assistant head coach. While many of the coaches on Nick Sirianni’s staff have worked for him before, the 45-year-old Singleton has not.
So why is he the assistant head coach?
Well, Singleton thinks it has something to do with what he called a “varied background.” Singleton is the son of a retired Air Force Sergeant and was born in Incirlik, Turkey. He eventually went to Air Force where he played running back and then served, eventually joining the coaching staff back at the academy.
After that, Singleton coached at a couple different spots in the college ranks before coaching running backs with the Colts, Raiders and Bengals. He was on the previous coaching staff in Indianapolis before Frank Reich and Sirianni took over in 2018, so Singleton and Sirianni know a lot of the same people, who likely became references for Singleton this offseason.
“There will be things that Nick comes and talks to me about, bounces off of me, whether it’s ideas of something he’s trying to do or something he wants to do,” Singleton said. “I think I have a little bit of a varied background so I have some understanding of things maybe beyond football. But really that’s it. Just being a sounding board for him there. At the end of the day, it’s making sure that as a running backs coach here that my room and those guys are ready to play once Sunday comes around.”
Singleton made it a point to say that he’s watched film of all the Eagles’ running backs and will use it to help them get better but he also won’t hold it against them. He wants his players to know they all have clean slates; he’s less worried about what they’ve done than what they’re going to do.
If you’re wondering, his approach seems to be working.
Sanders said Singleton isn’t Duce — no one is — but he’s still getting through to his players. Sanders said Staley is “goofier” than Singleton but Singleton brings energy all the time. The Eagles’ top running back will always have a close relationship with Staley but that doesn’t mean he won’t grow close to Singleton too.
“I love Coach Singleton,” Sanders said. “Getting to know him more and getting to be around him more, he’s not like Duce but his energy is through the roof though. His energy is definitely through the roof.”
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