This is not a story about how rookie running back Kenny Gainwell has been learning from Miles Sanders.
Rookie learning from an established veteran? That’s boring.
This is the opposite.
It’s a story about how much Miles Sanders has been learning from Kenny Gainwell.
There’s a twist.
Sanders is 24 years old, beginning his third NFL season, one of only nine backs in the NFL with 1,500 rushing yards and 75 catches over the last two seasons.
Gainwell is an unheralded rookie fifth-round pick.
But it says a lot about both Sanders and Gainwell that the whole learning thing goes both ways.
Sanders is the kind of athlete that realizes there’s something to learn from everybody. No matter how little experience they have.
“He DM’d (direct messaged) me when he got drafted and he promised me that we were going to get each other better,” Sanders said. “And he’s definitely doing that.”
For starters, Gainwell is a better receiver than Sanders, and Sanders freely admits that.
Sanders caught 50 passes for 509 yards as a rookie but struggled catching the ball last year and finished 28-for-197. He’s struggled catching the football this summer as well.
And that’s pushed Sanders to work harder.
“He probably has the best hands in the room, I’m not afraid to say that,” Sanders said. “He has very natural hands. He practices without gloves, just to make it easier on him when he does put gloves on. I like that. Just making me work 10 times harder.”
Sanders is an accomplished running back. His 2,391 scrimmage yards are second-most in franchise history by a player in his first two years, behind only LeSean McCoy.
He’s one of only 11 players in NFL history to rush for 800 yards with a 4.5 average and 25 receptions in each of his first two seasons.
Yet he’s open to being pushed by a 22-year-old rookie.
“I love his game,” Sanders said before practice Sunday. “You guys have seen he fits perfectly in this offense. Those are the types of backs that are (having) long careers in this league right now, being able to catch the ball anywhere, whether it’s outside the backfield, in the slot, and he’s doing both. His ability to run the ball too is pretty good. I’m definitely impressed with him and I like the approach that he’s taken, just really keeping his head down, picking everybody’s brains, staying to himself and just working every day and trying to get better. He even gets me better.”
Sanders said he definitely sees a lot of young Miles Sanders in Gainwell, who like Sanders stands 5-foot-11 but at 190 is about 20 pounds lighter.
“What I really like about him … he comes with a different approach,” Sanders said. “He’s ready to get better each and every single day. Like, he’s always writing notes, he’s always asking questions, he’s not afraid to ask questions and that’s kind of how I was (as a rookie).
“I was still quiet but I also was just trying to make sure I’m doing my job the best way I could do it. I told him, ‘When you got a question, bro, just ask, because the worst thing is if you’re going out there and just messing up and having no clue what to do.'
"There’s nothing wrong with asking a question. … He comes in every day head down just ready to work every day.”