Still think Miles Sanders is a bust?

Still think Miles Sanders is a bust?

With one unforgettable play, Miles Sanders went from frustrated rookie to legit NFL running back.

But it didn’t just happen. While Sanders was struggling along with one of the lowest rushing averages in the NFL, he never stopped working to become the player we all expected him to be.

“Week after week he gets better and better and smoother and smoother,” Brandon Brooks said. “I’m extremely excited for him. The biggest thing as a rookie is the game is so much faster, and there’s so much more to think about and finally for him it’s starting to slow down. He busts his ass through the week, whether it’s blitz pickups or hanging out with Duce or being with Sproles, so he knows what’s going on. But I think it’s starting to slow down for him. He’s looking better and better each week.”

Sanders still has to do this consistently, but his 65-yard touchdown run against the Bills Sunday behind a massive Jordan Howard block not only turned a tight four-point game into a 10-point Eagles lead, it really demonstrated what this 22-year-old rookie is capable of.

We’ve already seen what he can do in the passing game. He’s a beast.

He left the game early Sunday with a shoulder injury that he said isn’t serious, but not before he caught three passes for 44 yards and ran three times for 74 yards.

“Happy for him,” Brooks said. “He busts his ass. I was telling Duce, the one thing I saw, it wasn’t even on that run, it was on a kick return, you saw it, he was just really smooth in and out of his cuts, making guys miss, it was like, ‘OK, there it its, it’s coming along.’”

Sanders entered the weekend averaging 3.5 yards per carry, which was seventh-worst of 42 backs in the NFL with at least 50 carries.

His carries had gone down and Howard’s had gone up. But Pederson never completely forgot Sanders. And it was interesting that on a key TD drive in the first half, down near the goal line after the Brandon Graham strip sack, Pederson dialed up Sanders, who gained nine yards on two carries to set up a touchdown.

Sanders’ 65-yard TD was the longest by an Eagle since a 65-yarder by Bryce Brown against the Bears in 2013 and matched the longest since a 66-yarder by LeSean McCoy against the Giants in 2009.

Where Sanders has struggled this year is reading the hole and getting to the second level.

But once he does? Watch out.

In the open field, he looks strong, fast and powerful.

“Obviously it means a lot,” he said. “Rookie season. First rushing touchdown, long one, took it the house. But I have to give credit to the key block that Jordan had and the offensive line. They played a hell of a game the whole game. That play doesn’t happen unless those guys do their jobs.”

Halfway through the season, Sanders is on pace for 1,136 scrimmage yards, a 4.5 rushing average and 38 catches. Only 19 rookie RBs have had 1,100 scrimmage yards, a 4.5 average and at least 35 catches.

Sanders is only the 10th NFL player with 250 yards both rushing and receiving in his first eight career games since 1986. The others are Ricky Watters, Marshall Faulk, Terrell Davis, Edgerrin James, Jahvid Best, Saquon Barkley, Karreem Hunt and Alvin Kamara.

Sanders is the first running back with six catches of at least 25 yards since Tiki Barber in 2004.

He's second among rookies in yards from scrimmage behind only Oakland’s Josh Jacobs, who has 50 more touches. He’s seventh among all rookies — backs and receivers — in receiving yards.

“He’s just learning and learning,” Howard said. “It’s a tough league to adjust to, but I feel like he’s just getting better and better, keep making big plays week in and week out. I feel like he’s getting a lot more comfortable each week … I try to wear the defense down and when he gets in the game he has that game-breaking speed, and it worked out today.”

He’s still learning. Still getting better. Still finding his way.

But it sure looks like the Eagles have found themselves a young stud running back for the first time in a decade.

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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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