When Miles Sanders has the football in his hands, he reverts to his natural instincts, his pure talent. He's got the vision, the foot speed to make defenders miss, the burst, and speed to make big gains in the running game. Those innate skills are why the Eagles used the 53rd pick in the NFL Draft to select Sanders, who has been impressive to date in his first Training Camp.
But for Sanders to contribute this season in a talent-heavy offense, he's going to have to be more than a brilliant player with ability. He's going to have to know every assignment. He's going to have to have the mental part of the offense down stone cold.
That's all part of the process.
"Every day, yeah, I'd say it's coming. It's getting better. I feel like I'm up to speed here," Sanders said on Saturday as he walked off the practice field at the NovaCare Complex doing what rookies do – carrying fellow running back Wendell Smallwood's pads and helmet. "For me, it's just a matter of getting more and more comfortable with what we're doing. I know it's going to take some time. I'm a patient person. I just want to be out there on the field doing whatever I can do to help this team."
In a sense, then, Sanders is back in the classroom at Penn State tackling what he said was his most difficult course, STAT 200, the study of statistics. Sanders had to work overtime for that class, just as he's doing here to learn the playbook and, with that, learn the technique that assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley demands.
"The way I came from Penn State, we didn't have a huddle. We always had to look to the sidelines, so I was used to signals and names," Sanders said. "Now we have a huddle and we've got names of plays with numbers mixed in. Some of these players are like a sentence long. It's a bit more difficult.
"But I'm working at it. I get out of here at night (meetings end at 8 p.m.) and I go back to the hotel and study my playbook and then I'm back here early in the morning doing the same thing. There are some nights when I've fallen asleep with my (tablet) right there on me, on my bed. It's a lot of work and I love it."
Sanders has shown the skills that made the Eagles love him. He's explosive and he's shifty and in some goal-line situations Sanders has displayed his power finding the end zone. From a talent perspective, Sanders is the total package and he figures to be a great fit in a backfield that includes Jordan Howard, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement, Smallwood, Josh Adams, and Boston Scott. The Eagles are loaded at running back and Sanders is very much part of the picture.
He carries himself with confidence and composure, and the humility that comes with being a rookie.
"I think he's done a great job coming in," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "I got to know him right away a little bit and I've seen what he's done on the field in some 'live' periods. I'm excited to see him in this preseason breaking tackles, making guys miss. He's an exciting player.
"Off the field, locker-room wise, great guy, solid dude, you saw him today carrying Smallwood's pads, doing his rookie duties. He's fit right in."
Of the five players in the Eagles' draft class, Sanders may have the opportunity to make the most impact, and he's offered more than a few glimpses that he's going to be ready for the challenge. Caution, though, is important here. It's early. Sanders knows he's got to be more than just a ball carrier. He's worked hard on his receiving skills and his technique in pass protection. He has to be an all-around player, not just a runner.
Step by step, Sanders is on the come. He's opening eyes. And on Thursday night in the preseason opener, Sanders will have a chance to take another big step forward.
"I have a lot of work between now and then, so I'm not looking ahead to that just yet," he said. "I just know that as every day passes, I'm more comfortable and feeling like I'm playing faster, playing like I know I can. It's coming. I feel good about things."
The Eagles are making the turn at this 2019 Training Camp. They have an eye on the preseason and separating the roster contenders. Sanders is stating his case at running back as someone the coaching staff can trust to do everything right, with some big-play runs as a cherry on top.
Watch Sanders for just a few snaps and you see the talent oozing out of him. He's heading in the right direction and is on course to help the Eagles' offense in a number of ways this season.