Eagles

Making the case for Eagles to play Miles Sanders from Day 1

Making the case for Eagles to play Miles Sanders from Day 1

Forget the future. 

The Eagles need to play Miles Sanders a ton this year. 

Sure, the Eagles also added Jordan Howard in a trade this offseason, but there’s no reason to hold back on playing the second-round pick from Penn State. Running backs, perhaps more than any other position, can contribute early in their careers. That should be no different for Sanders. 

During training camp and the preseason games, he’s been proving that. 

Based on what he’s seen this summer, how much does Doug Pederson think Sanders can contribute as a rookie? 

“As much as we give him,” Pederson said. 

They should give him a lot. 

I think he’s does a great job with us so far,” Pederson continued. “The biggest concern coming into camp was obviously the health issue with coming out of the spring being injured a little bit. But I think he’s checked that box. Obviously, he’ll have a role for us. It’s good to have those two guys back there who are different runners but at the same time give us that running game that was missed a year ago.

We’ve seen impressive things from Sanders all summer, but now that he’s doing it in games, I actually have some video to show you. So let’s take a closer look at the different aspects of his game: 

Burst 

Sanders can hit a hole and with what should be a very good offensive line in front of him, there will be plenty of holes. 

Check out the first play against the Jaguars last week. Sanders makes a nice move to find a huge hole in front of him, then he bursts through it. 

It’s great to be able to cut, but Sanders’ ability to accelerate after the cut is what makes this play. That hole was huge, but it would have closed way quicker on a lot of backs. 

This is where his 4.49 second 40-yard dash time (70th percentile) shows up on the field. 

Power 

We all think of Howard as the power back in the rotation and maybe that will be true on goal line situations. But Sanders has power too. This run from the Eagles’ 5-yard line shows that. 

On this one, Sanders goes for a gain of 16, but about 12 of those yards came after contact. By the end of the play, he’s dragging Jaguars defenders to the 21-yard line. 

We saw this from Sanders at Penn State too. According to PFF, he ranked eighth among qualified FBS running backs in yards after contact per touch (3.68). As a runner, he averaged 3.8 yards after contact per rushing attempt and 845 of his 1,274 yards in 2018 came after contact. His legs keep churning. 

Blocking 

As much as everyone else was happy to see his running ability last week, Sanders beamed when talking about his blocking. The ability — or lack of ability — to pass protect is what often keeps rookie running backs off the field. Coming out of college, Sanders was at least a willing blocker, but we’re seeing he understands his assignments too. 

This block on blitzing linebacker Joe Giles-Harris allowed Clayton Thorson enough time to deliver a 38-yard touchdown pass to Greg Ward against the Jaguars. While some might notice the blitzer coming off the edge, Sanders picked the right guy and stuffed the ‘backer. 

Elusiveness 

This is the most exciting part of Sanders’ game and it’s the part that has prematurely drawn Shady comparisons. No, Sanders is not LeSean McCoy. There aren’t many guys who are as shifty as Shady. But Sanders does have the ability to make tacklers miss and his jump cut has been very impressive. 

The jump cut in Thursday’s game wasn’t as draw-dropping as the one he pulled off at the Linc during the public practice, but it’s still a good example. 

This play went for a modest gain of three yards, but it could have been a loss. Aside from just the physical ability to move laterally, vision is so important in this instance. The ability to get to the hole means nothing if the back can’t find it. 

Receiving 

Through two preseason games, Sanders hasn’t been targeted, so you’ll have to take my word on this one. He can catch. Really, I’ve been impressed by how smooth he’s looked as a pass catcher this summer in practice. 

In 2018, he caught 24 passes for 139 yards as a Nittany Lion, so he wasn’t exactly LaDanian Tomlinson, but he already looks like a more natural pass catcher than Howard, who has averaged 24 passes per year in longer NFL seasons. 

Sanders’ ability to catch the ball combined with not being a liability in pass protection could earn him some valuable third-down snaps even as a rookie. 

Ball security 

This is the one category where we’ll have to wait and see. The Eagles have been working with Sanders on ball security, but over time he’s just going to have to show he can be trusted. 

At Penn State, Sanders fumbled 10 times (lost 7), which means he fumbled once every 27.6 rushing attempts. That’s obviously way too many. To put it into perspective, Howard has fumbled just four times in his three-year NFL career; once every 194.5 snaps. 

There’s nothing Sanders can do to prove to coaches in practice that his fumbling issues are completely gone. He’ll have to prove it when the real games start. 

He should have plenty of chances to earn that trust. 

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Former Eagle Connor Barwin hired as special assistant to the general manager

Former Eagle Connor Barwin hired as special assistant to the general manager

Connor Barwin spent a lot of time at the Eagles’ complex the last couple months of the season, and now we know exactly why.

The Eagles on Friday afternoon announced that Barwin, who spent four years playing for the Eagles, has joined the team's front office in the role of special assistant to the general manager.

I'm done playing football, but my football career is not over," Barwin said in an interview on the team’s web site. "I want to stay involved. I want to help this team wherever I can and also learn the other side of the game from the coaches and the personnel side. There's still a lot that I can learn about the on-field part of the game, as well. I love being around the game. I still want to win a Super Bowl, multiple Super Bowls.

According to the Eagles’ web site, Barwin will work with the player personnel staff during the offseason and work on player development during the season, with an emphasis on mentoring players making the challenging transition from college to the NFL.

Barwin, 33, retired after spending last year with the Giants. He began his career with the Texans before signing a six-year, $36 million deal with the Eagles before the 2013 season.

He spent four of those seasons here and made his only Pro Bowl in 2014, when he had a career-high 14 1/2 sacks - the most by any Eagle over the last eight seasons.

Despite playing only four years here, Barwin ranks 15th in franchise history with 31 1/2 sacks, tied with Mike Mamula.

When Chip Kelly and his staff were fired after the 2015 season and new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz switched from a 3-4 defense under Bill Davis to a 4-3, Barwin moved from outside linebacker to defensive end. He had five sacks in 2016 and was released after the season.

Barwin spent 2017 with the Rams and 2018 with the Giants. He had 56 1/2 sacks in 10 seasons.

"I got to play for a bunch of really great coaches and look inside how other organizations are run," Barwin said. "That's some insight that I can bring to the Eagles."

Even after he left the Eagles, Barwin always considered Philadelphia home. He has made a huge impact in the community with his Make the World a Better Place foundation, which refurbishes and rebuilds parks and rec centers in Philadelphia.

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Eagles reportedly interviewing Graham Harrell for offensive coordinator job

Eagles reportedly interviewing Graham Harrell for offensive coordinator job

We have a new and interesting name in contention to be the Eagles’ next offensive coordinator.

The Eagles on Friday interviewed Southern California offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Graham Harrell, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane.

This is an interesting approach from the Eagles and Harrell would certainly qualify as an outside-the-box hire. 

Harrell, 34, spent last season at USC but notably has an extensive history with Mike Leach and his Air Raid Offense. Harrell played for Leach at Texas Tech from 2004-08 before going to the CFL and NFL and then coached under Leach at Washington State from 2014-15. 

So Harrell would likely be able to bring some new and potentially exciting concepts to Doug Pederson’s offense. Remember, Jeff Stoutland is the Eagles’ run game coordinator, which meant that Mike Groh was pretty much the pass game coordinator for the last two seasons before he was fired. Since he wouldn’t call plays, that would basically be Harrell’s role if he got the job in Philly. 

At USC, Harrell was hired by head coach Clay Helton when Kliff Kingsbury left after a month to take the head coaching job with the Arizona Cardinals. USC wanted to have an Air Raid style, so they turned to Harrell. 

In his one year as the offensive coordinator at USC, the Trojans improved drastically in major statistical categories on offense from 2018: 

Points per game: 26.1 to 32.5
Yards per game: 382.6 to 454.0 
Passing yards per game: 248.2 to 335.8  

Check out this interesting excerpt from an Aug. 1 story in Sports Illustrated about Harrell’s hire at USC and his thoughts on the offensive system he comes with:

“People hear Air Raid and they think five wide receivers, no tight ends, 60 pass attempts and 50 points a game. To Harrell, the Air Raid is something else. It is working to death a small number of plays, with shorter playcalls, perfecting those plays and out-executing — not out-scheming — the opponent. Option-based coaches, like former Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, operate under similar mentalities, but with a different focus: rushing the football. Leach does it through the air. “You can’t do everything. I think a lot of people try to take a little bit of everything offensively,” Harrell says. “If you do that, you don’t have much of an identity. You’re just O.K. at everything and not really good at something.”

At times over the last few seasons, the Eagles have found success after simplifying. They’ve also found success using an up-tempo pace to get Carson Wentz into a rhythm. These seem like concepts that would mesh with Harrell’s philosophy. 

And we also know that Pederson values coaches who, like himself, were once players. After he left Texas Tech, Harrell played one season (but was injured) for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and then was a backup quarterback in Green Bay for a few seasons and with the New York Jets for a season in 2013. Harrell’s only NFL game action came in 2012 as a member of the Packers. He played in four games and threw just four career passes. 

Since then, though, he’s been a quick riser in the coaching world. And he has some fresh ideas that might help an Eagles offense that has been far too stagnant at times over the last couple seasons. 

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