Eagles’ Miles Sanders: ‘I’m taking it a little more personal this year’

Miles Sanders talks with Pro Football Network -- the Eagles' running back is striving for more in his fourth NFL season.

HOUSTON, Tx. — In rapid-fire motion, Miles Sanders taps his feet in and out of a ladder drill intended to simulate the explosive cuts and footwork he regularly displays in NFL games to elude linebackers and defensive backs.

Sanders, 24, listens intently as longtime trainer and mentor Craig Williams shouts out instructions while timing his recovery between sprints, agility drills, and other conditioning work.

Eagles’ running back Miles Sanders preparing for 2022 NFL season

Training at Rice University and living in Houston this offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles’ veteran running back appears to already be in optimal condition. He’s ahead of the curve as he prepares for the Eagles’ offseason conditioning program, organized team activities, and minicamps.

“He doesn’t quit, he doesn’t question the workout,” said Williams, who has known Sanders since he first started playing football at seven years old growing up in Pittsburgh, Pa. “He understands what I’m expecting of him. Shout-out to Rice University for opening their doors to us, so we can get the work in that we need with no distractions.

“He approaches every workout to finish. I track his numbers. I can see how he’s progressing. He’s at a point right now where, if he had to play tomorrow, he’s ready.”

Readiness is a recurring theme for Sanders

A former Eagles second-round running back from Penn State, Sanders has averaged 5.1 yards per carry in three NFL seasons. He’s already rushed for 2,439 yards and 9 touchdowns while catching 104 career passes for 864 yards and 3 scores. In his second NFL season in 2020, he rushed for a career-high 867 yards and 6 touchdowns in just 12 games.

“I’ve still got a lot to prove,” Sanders said. “A lot of people don’t respect all the work I’ve done, and I’ve still got a lot to prove. I’m taking it real personal this year. Just find a way to get noticed and command the respect, I’m not taking no for an answer this year. Just stay healthy, just be available, that’s my main goal this year.

“I want to be the best. That’s what I train to be. I want to be the best, period. I exhaust myself working hard to try to get to that point. I’m taking it a little more personal this year.”

As a rookie, Sanders caught a career-high 50 passes for 509 yards and 3 scores while rushing for a franchise rookie record 818 yards and 3 scores. He set the Eagles’ franchise record for all-purpose yards by a rookie with 1,641 yards.

In two career playoff games, he’s rushed for 85 yards on 21 carries with 6 catches for 20 yards.

Sanders is entering final year of rookie contract

Sanders is entering the final year of his four-year, $5.35 million rookie contract. The Eagles also have Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott under contract.

Philly has traditionally extended players in the final year of their deal, including Josh Sweat, Dallas Goedert, Avonte Maddox, and Jordan Mailata. Sanders, represented by Beyond Athlete Management agent Eddie Edwards, sounds like he’s a strong candidate for that scenario.

Sanders has the eighth-highest average per carry in NFL history among running backs who have at least 500 carries. He’s one of just seven running backs to have three consecutive 750-yard seasons to start their career and average 4.5 yards or more. Just nine backs in NFL history have averaged 5.3 yards or higher in consecutive seasons.

“Miles is a heck of a player, heck of a person,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said in February during the NFL Scouting Combine. “We haven’t even seen everything Miles can give this team. Obviously, he’s been really productive. I know he wants to get in the end zone, as well, but I think the best is yet to come from Miles.”

“Just watching him get more comfortable each and every game literally, he’s doing more and it’s showing in the games,” Sanders said of Hurts. “He’s getting more comfortable and having fun with it. As long as you have good chemistry, any team can make it to the Super Bowl.”

In the first six games, Sanders rushed for 270 yards on 57 carries before suffering a sprained ankle against the Las Vegas Raiders that sidelined him for three weeks. Against the New York Jets, he rushed for 120 yards on 24 carries. Against Washington, he rushed for a season-high 131 yards. He broke his hand against the New York Giants and missed the final two games of the season.

Sanders is fully healthy now.

“I didn’t take too much time off, I had my little injury, got my hand right and I’m good to go,” Sanders said. “We had potential last year, and you saw what we did with it — we still made the playoffs, but that’s not good enough for us. We got a lot of new pieces. Just can’t wait to get back together with the guys and get the chemistry going and start the season off right and get off to a good start.”

Working out in Texas has paid dividends for Sanders. Training in good weather and enjoying popular local restaurants, including Turkey Leg Hut, Sanders is soaking up his Texas experience.

“Oh man, the weather and the food, I love the food here, always somewhere to eat, and it’s keeping my weight steady,” Sanders said. “I love Texas, and this is my first time being here. I love the Southern hospitality.”

Sanders’ talent blossomed early

At Woodland Hills High School, a local powerhouse program, Sanders emerged as a blue-chip recruit. He was named Mr. Football in Pennsylvania and an Under Armour All-American, choosing the Nittany Lions over Pitt and multiple other scholarship offers.

As a junior, he replaced Saquon Barkley as the primary running back and rushed for 1,274 yards and 9 touchdowns before declaring early for the NFL. His career average: 6.0 yards per carry. He was named the Nittany Lions’ Most Valuable Offensive Player and second-team All-Big Ten Conference.

Not bad for a former offensive lineman who wore the No. 98 jersey before switching positions to running back and the No. 1 jersey.

“It’s been amazing, a blessing to see how he blossomed from seven years old to now in the NFL,” Williams said. “Being able to watch him grow was rare, always being a man among the boys. He always had that ‘it factor’, even at eight years old. I was telling his mom, ‘Yeah, he’s going to the NFL.’

“He had that it factor. He honed his skills and the rest is history. it’s been a blessing to watch his transformation.”

Sanders laughed as he recalled his initial moments as a budding running back. “It was easy, I didn’t want that face mask in the front in the middle of your face,” he said. “That No. 98 just didn’t look right to me. I wanted to score touchdowns.”

Aaron Wilson is the NFL Insider for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL.

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