Miles Sanders grew extremely close to Duce Staley over the last two years, so it wasn’t easy this offseason as the Eagles’ turned over their coaching staff and Staley left for Detroit.
“I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t difficult,” Sanders said of losing Staley, who was a fatherly figure to him. “But it’s a business.”
And sometimes the business of football can have a good side. In this case, new Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni is implementing a new offensive scheme that has similarities to the previous one but might also be better suited to get the most out of Sanders as he enters the prime of his career.
It should be no surprise, but Sanders “loves” the new offense.
The two areas where Lane Johnson revealed some differences: More emphasis on the screen game and on setting up the pass game with play action.
“I think they're important, they're definitely important,” offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said. “Anytime you can get the ball (out of) the quarterback's hands quickly and create explosive plays in the screen game, that's big. And obviously the play action game is big too. When you go into games, things are going to be different week in and week out. It's your opponent. Who are you playing? What do they do on defense? What are the coverage techniques? What's the fronts they are playing? So your scheme each week can be multiple by who you're playing.”
The Eagles are still in Phase 2 of their modified offseason but they’ve been on the field with their coaches for a week, so they’re already getting a better sense of the offense.
“I think the screens will definitely allow the backs and slots to get more opportunities with the ball in our hands, they’re emphasizing that a lot,” Sanders said. “As far as the play action, the play book is about this big. A lot of different stuff to set up everything and everything marinates with each other.
“That’s why I love the offense so much. Everybody is slowly getting it right and memorizing everything and getting the terminology down. I feel like once we get this offense ready to go, I think we’ll be very, very, very solid. That’s before training camp.”
Sanders, 24, was hoping to have a true breakout season in Year 2 but it didn’t exactly go to plan. He rushed for 867 yards and 6 touchdowns but missed four games with injury. And his receiving numbers took a major tumble.
As a rookie, Sanders caught 50 passes for 509 yards and 3 touchdowns. Last year, he had just 28 catches for 197 yards and dropped 8 balls, tied for the league lead among running backs. While Sanders’ yards-per-carry average rose from 4.6 to 5.3, his yards-per-catch average dropped from 10.2 to 7.0 from Year 1 to 2.
The Eagles have Boston Scott and Kenny Gainwell, who are both expected to be big parts of the receiving game out of the backfield, but getting Sanders going in the passing game would be a big boost too.
In Indianapolis, we all know that Nyheim Hines has been a true dual threat running back, but the other backs catch passes too. Jonathan Taylor as a rookie in 2020 ran for over 1,000 yards but also caught 36 passes for 299 yards. Sanders has the ability to do both.
“There’s a lot of stuff that I took from last year that I’m taking into this year as far as anything that I gotta correct,” Sanders said. “I know me catching the ball wasn’t as good as I was my rookie year. Even my run discipline, where my eyes were supposed to be at. Even pass blocking, I’ve gotta sharpen up on pass pro. There’s always stuff. I could say my whole game. I look forward to getting better each and every year to make me the player I want to be.”
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