PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles' RB1 is clearly defined as Miles Sanders but when it comes time to hurry up, head coach Nick Sirianni wants rookie Kenny Gainwell on the field.
Gainwell, the team's fifth-round pick out of Memphis, played 25 offensive snaps in the Eagles' 32-6 rout of Atlanta on Sunday, 12 of them coming on perhaps the most important drive of the game.
Philadelphia was leading 7-6 with less than two minutes remaining until intermission before a signature 12-play, 62-yard TD drive. The march culminated in a 9-yard scoring pass from Jalen Hurts to Dallas Goedert with an ensuing two-point conversion by Sanders extending the Philadelphia advantage to 15-6.
The Falcons never threatened from there and it was Gainwell in the backfield for the defining drive.
“He’s able to do it,” Sanders said. “Everybody in our room, between me, him, and Boston (Scott) are able to do anything. Routes coming out the backfield, in the slot, we’re all capable of doing it.
"He just showed the most efficient way of doing it in practice. That’s just easy to him. Like I said, he has the best hands in our RB room, to me, in my opinion. That’s his thing - two-minute drill. That’s it.”
Sanders even offered advice to Gainwell when the rookie hit the field for the high-leverage spot.
"[Sanders said] make sure when I get in to attack everything," Gainwell said. "Make sure I have my eyes right. You know when you come in [for] two minutes it's going to be blitzes so make sure I have my eyes right when everything comes."
Sirianni began to tilt in the Gainwell direction for hurry-up work late in training camp with the joint practices with the New York Jets proving to be the final exam for Gainwell, who opted out of the 2020 college season due to COVID-19 concerns.
"The biggest thing for him, he's just kind of just taking it all in, soaking everything up that everybody's trying to help him with," said DT Fletcher Cox, who is Gainwell's cousin. "He's put his head down every day and go to work.
"With a guy like that, a teammate like that you can do nothing but respect him, who shows up every day and does what you need to do just learn how to be a pro and this and that, you know, it's really good for the rookies. Guy just comes in and does what he's told to do and is showing it on Sunday."
The final bar Gainwell had to clear was pass protection.
“He had to show that he could protect,” Sirianni said. “Because we know his ability as a pass-catcher. We've seen his ability as a pass-catcher. We've seen it even more in practice and all the different drills we do and everything.
“And he just had to show that - if you just go in there and he's only releasing out in the pass patterns, well, you might as well have another wideout in there, right? Because he's not going to block."
Gainwell passed his test and pointed to attention to detail as the key to it all.
"Making sure I listen to the calls from the center, understand everything, being in it means being attentive," said Gainwell. "Basically just learning, studying everything I have to do."
The real payoff came later when Gainwell scored his first NFL TD with an 8-yard run in the third quarter.
"It felt amazing," he said. "I feel like I've been scoring TDs all my life but it felt different because I am now to the big leagues."
-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.