What was most disappointing for Miles Sanders when he missed OTAs wasn’t falling behind mentally or falling behind physically.
It was wasting an opportunity to impress his teammates.
Sanders, the rookie running back from Penn State, returned to practice Thursday at the start of training camp after missing virtually all of spring practice with a significant hamstring injury.
It’s tough for anybody to miss that much time but especially a rookie.
Sanders said he’s almost back where he needs to be with his conditioning and said he never fell behind mentally because he stayed in his playbook over the summer.
But Thursday was his first chance to do what he really wants to do.
Show he belongs.
Prove he belongs.
It was really tough missing that much time just because my whole goal for the offseason was to impress the vets, and I didn’t get a chance to really do that,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of stars on the team. Offense is stacked, defense is stacked, whole team is really stacked, and it’s full of vets, so it’s just my determination to make sure that I’m not just here like, ‘Made it,’ and that I’m going to work every day to get better. … Just trying to prove to the vets that I belong on this team. That’s really my only goal right now.
That’s a heck of a smart way for a 22-year-old kid to approach rookie training camp.
Veterans are notoriously difficult to impress, and this roster has 39 players in at least their fifth season and 34 players who were on the Super Bowl team.
Training camp is all about “Show me,” and that process began for Sanders on Thursday.
He said he’s not concerned where he fits in or how many reps he gets or where he sits on the depth chart.
“All you can do is focus on today and when the next day comes focus on that day and try not to worry about it,” he said.
On Thursday, Sanders found himself behind Jordan Howard on the depth chart, which is no surprise considering Howard is a former Pro Bowler who averaged 1,120 rushing yards and eight TDs in three seasons with the Bears.
With Howard, Super Bowl hero Corey Clement, 2018 Eagles rushing leader Josh Howard, three-year vet Wendell Smallwood and of course Darren Sproles, it’s a crowded running back room.
It’s really competitive,” he said. “For me, I’ve been in a talented running back room since high school. In college with Saquon (Barkley) and the rest of the running backs, and now it’s even more talented. It’s just really competitive and we hold ourselves to a high standard and making sure we get better every day.
The challenge for Sanders is to string together day after day after day.
That’s the only way he’ll move up the depth chart and earn playing time.
He got off to a nice start Thursday in a low-key 10-10-10 practice at the NovaCare Complex, showing good shiftiness and burst when he had the ball.
After practice, he spent some time catching balls from the JUGS machine and he said he’s very confident in his receiving ability, even though he only caught 32 passes in college.
Soon the pads will go on, the preseason games will start and the real challenge will begin for Sanders.
For now, it’s all about learning every day and finding his way in the NFL on a team with tremendous expectations.
And impressing all his older, more experienced teammates every chance he gets.
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