Miles Sanders proving he's much more than a runner

Miles Sanders proving he's much more than a runner

JACKSONVILLE — Miles Sanders was happy with how he ran the ball Thursday night.

He really started beaming when he was asked about his blocking.

Sanders, the rookie second-round pick from Penn State, showed off his improvement as a blocker on Clayton Thorson’s TD pass to Greg Ward.

The Eagles went for it on 4th-and-4 from Jacksonville’s 38-yard-line on the second play of the second quarter, and the Jags sent linebacker Joe Giles-Harris up the middle on a blitz.

Thorson stood in the pocket and Sanders stood up Giles-Harris, giving the rookie quarterback time to heave the ball toward Ward, who caught it just inside the 20 and weaved his way through traffic for a 38-yard touchdown.

It was precisely the type of play a rookie running back has to make if he wants playing time.

We all know Sanders can scoot. 

If he can pick up the blitz like he did Thursday night? He’s going to play a ton.

I get excited when I pick up blitzes and pick up the right guys," Sanders said after the game. "I feel like I’m getting better at that. As far as knowing where the blitz is coming from and knowing the calls that I got, I think I’m pretty good at that. It’s just technique I have to work on though. I feel like I’m decent at that and getting better every day.

Ward wasn’t aware of Sanders' blitz pickup until after the game, but he said he wasn’t surprised.

Ward and Sanders’ lockers are near each other at the NovaCare Complex, and Ward says he’s been really impressed with the 22-year-old’s progress and just how seriously he takes the blocking aspect of his job.

“It says a lot,” Ward said. “He’s already doing a good job in that area, focused in on it and trying to get better. That’s what you want in a rookie.”

Sanders also had a couple runs Thursday night that showed everybody why the Eagles are so high on him.

“Felt like I was more patient back there, felt like I was more comfortable,” he said. “Thought it was a good day.”

On the first play of the game, Sanders darted up the middle for 12 yards, and later in the first quarter, running from the Eagles’ 5-yard-line, he ran 16 yards to open what would be a 95-yard TD drive.

On the 12-yarder, he showed tremendous vision and acceleration, reading the hole and cutting back inside for extra yards.

On the 16-yard run, he ran behind a big block by rookie left tackle Andre Dillard. Interesting to note that he was first hit on the 9-yard-line but dragged cornerback Tre Herndon and defensive tackle Eli Ankou all the way down to the 21-yard-line. That’s 12 yards after first contact, and that’s huge.

Just showing I can break tackles and I can get yac, yards after contact,” he said. “That’s big in this league. That’s what separates the average running backs from the great running backs. Just getting extra yards and keeping the play alive.

Sanders was 3-for-3 rushing in the preseason opener against the Titans and really never had any room to work.

Sanders only got five carries this time but netted 31 yards — all in the first quarter. The Ward TD was his 11th and final play of the night.

O-line blocked their ass off, just making them look good, that’s what it’s all about,” Sanders said. “Just being patient out there and doing everything Duce (Staley) tells me. I’d say I’ve come a long way since the offseason, absolutely. All I can really say is that I’m working every day. Come in here and work.

Since Chip Kelly jettisoned LeSean McCoy after the 2014 season, the Eagles have had a different leading rusher every year: DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, LeGarrette Blount and Josh Adams.

Right now, Adams is the only one in that group who’s even in the league, and he’s fighting an uphill battle for a roster spot.

Offseason pickup Jordan Howard is an accomplished player and a former Pro Bowler. But when it comes to getting truly excited about an Eagles running back?

It’s been a little while. And Sanders sure seems ready to end that drought.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles

Redskins sign Eagles Super Bowl starter Ronald Darby

Redskins sign Eagles Super Bowl starter Ronald Darby

The Eagles will now see Ronald Darby twice a year. Which is about how often they’ve seen him the last few years.

OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, but Darby, who missed 22 games in his three years with the Eagles, agreed to terms of a one-year, $4 million deal with the Redskins Sunday, according to ESPN.

The Eagles acquired Darby from the Bills just before the 2017 season for Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick in 2018. Darby missed nine games with an ankle injury before returning to the starting lineup and playing at a high level down the stretch as the Eagles went on their Super Bowl run.

He suffered a torn ACL that cost him the last seven regular-season games and the postseason in 2018 and missed five games last year with hamstring and hip injuries.

Darby, who won a bronze medal in the 200-meter dash at the 2011 IAAF World Championships, had six interceptions as an Eagle, the most by any Eagles cornerback during the Doug Pederson Era.

At his best, he was a speedy, aggressive playmaking corner, but the Eagles just did not see that player very often, especially the last two years.

The Eagles went into the offseason committed to revamping the secondary, and they never had any intention of re-signing Darby, who made $5.625 million last year.

In Washington, Darby will be playing for new head coach Ron Rivera. The Redskins signed Kendall Fuller as a free agent but traded Quinton Dunbar, who started 11 games at corner for the Skins last year, to the Seahawks last week.

Darby is the seventh Eagles’ unrestricted free agent to sign elsewhere, following Halapoulivaati Vaitai [Lions], Jordan Howard [Dolphins], Kamu Grugier-Hill [Dolphins], Malcolm Jenkins [Saints], Nelson Agholor [Raiders] and Richard Rodgers [Redskins]. All but Howard were members of the 2017 Super Bowl team.

The Eagles made no effort to re-sign any of them.

Of the Eagles’ 15 free agents, only Jason Peters, Nigel Bradham, Vinny Curry and Josh McCown remain unsigned. The Eagles brought back Jalen Mills, Rodney McLeod, Nate Sudfeld and Hassan Ridgeway.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles

Ever wonder how many Philly natives played for the Eagles?

Ever wonder how many Philly natives played for the Eagles?

When the Eagles signed Will Parks, who grew up at 2nd and Allegheny and attended since-shuttered Germantown High School, it got me wondering how many Philadelphia natives have played for the Eagles.

The answer is not many. Especially recently.

Going back to 1940, we found 14 Philly natives who played in at least one regular-season game for the Eagles.

We’re not including players from the suburbs [Vince Papale, Josh Adams, Matt Bahr] or Philly natives the Eagles drafted who never got into a game [Raheem Brock, Steve Ebbeke].

Anybody missing?

SHAREEF MILLER [2019]: You don’t have to go very far back to find the last Philly native to play for the Eagles. Miller, their 4th-round pick last year, graduated from George Washington High up in Somerton, and he did play for the Eagles last year – two special teams snaps against the Bills.

BRUCE PERRY [2005-06]: Perry, also a George Washington graduate, was the Eagles’ 7th-round pick in 2004. He played five games with the Eagles and had 16 career carries. On the last day of the 2005 season, he ran 15 times for 70 yards against the Redskins, a 4.7 average. He never had another NFL carry.

UHURU HAMITER [2001-02]: Hamiter was a defensive end who played at Mastbaum High in Kensington, leading the Panthers to the 1996 Public League championship. After playing at Delaware State, he went undrafted in 1998, but he signed with the London Monarchs of the World League and had seven sacks. The Eagles brought him into training camp that summer, and although he didn’t make the roster, he did resurface in 1999 with the Saints and played five games. He returned to Philly and played in eight games.

CHUCK WEBER [1959-61]: Weber went to Abington High, but he grew up in Philly, so we’ll keep him in the Philly section. Weber was actually the Eagles’ middle linebacker in 1960, when Chuck Bednarik played outside. Weber had six INTs in 1960, most by an Eagles linebacker until William Thomas had seven in 1995. In a 1960 game against the Cowboys at the Cotton Bowl he became the first linebacker in NFL history with three INTs in a game. He remains one of only six Eagles with three interceptions in a game and the only linebacker. Kurt Coleman is the last to do it.

EDDIE BELL [1955-58]: Bell went to West Philadelphia High and played at Penn. The Eagles drafted him in the 5th-round in 1953, and Bell, one of the first African-Americans to play in the NFL, had nine INTs in four seasons with the Eagles before spending time in the CFL and then the AFL with the New York Titans, who eventually became the Jets.

JOHN MICHELS [1953]: Not to be confused with the John Michels who was once traded for Jon Harris, this John Michels was a guard who went to West Catholic and then played at Tennessee. He was a 25th-round draft pick in 1953 and played 11 games for the Eagles.

JESS RICHARDSON [1953-61]: Richardson was from East Falls and went to Roxborough High. He was the Eagles’ 8th-round pick in 1953 as a defensive tackle out of Alabama. Ray Didinger tells me Richardson grew up blocks away from the Kelly family and was friends with Grace Kelly, who became Princess of Monaco. He played nine of his 12 NFL seasons with the Eagles, made a Pro Bowl in 1959 and started on the 1960 NFL Championship team.

WALT STICKEL [1950-51]: Stickel went to Northeast High and played at both Tulsa and Penn before the Bears drafted him in the 21st round in 1945. He finished his career with the Eagles, playing in 11 games.

MIKE JARMOLUK [1949-55]: Jarmoluk, an interior lineman, attended Frankford High and Temple and was drafted by the Lions in 1945 before finishing his 10-year NFL career with the Eagles.

BILL MACKRIDES [1947-51]: Mackrides played at West Philly and Nevada and was the Eagles’ 3rd-round pick as a QB in 1947. He spent all but three games of his six-year career with the Eagles and was a backup on two NFL Championship teams. He threw 15 touchdown passes.

BERT KUCZYNSKI [1946]: Kuczynski went to Northeast High and Penn and played in one game for the Eagles.

MIKE MANDARINO [1944-45]: A West Catholic and La Salle grad, Mandarino played in 13 games for the Eagles in the 1940s.

BUCKO KILROY [1943-55]: Kilroy grew up in Port Richmond and attended Northeast Catholic and played college ball at both Notre Dame and Temple and also served in the Merchant Marines before spending his entire 13-year NFL career as an interior lineman with the Eagles, often playing both ways. He started 103 games for the Eagles, playing on both the 1948 and 1949 NFL Championship teams and was named to the NFL’s Team of the Decade for the 1940s. After his playing career, Kilroy spent nearly 50 years as an NFL executive, including 37 years with the Patriots.

JACK FERRANTE [1941, 1944-50]: Great story. Ferrante grew up in South Philly and then West Philly and briefly attended high school somewhere in the city, although nobody seems to remember exactly where. He left school to work during his sophomore year and was only 18 when he starting playing semi-pro football. After earning a local reputation, he got a tryout with the Eagles in 1941. He played three games and caught two passes, then got another tryout in 1944, and this time he stuck. Ferrante wound up spending the next seven years with the Eagles, catching 169 passes for 2,884 yards, 31 TDs (tied with Brent Celek for 12th-most in Eagles history) and a 17.71 average (7th-best in Eagles history) while starting for the 1948 and 1949 NFL Championship teams.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles