PHILADELPHIA – Miles Sanders took a handoff on the first play of the Eagles’ team drill during Saturday morning’s practice and burst to his left, made a cut, and was in the open field. Once there, he made a couple of juke moves that had safety Marcus Epps turning this way and that while the running back was on his way to the end zone.
“That’s the way to start a drill 2-6,” one unidentified coach or player yelled, referring to Sanders’ number.
Head coach Nick Sirianni was more effusive.
“He’s running with the ones, he’s running with the ones, he’s a starter, he’s a starter,” the coach hollered in the direction of reporters furiously scribbling the action in their notebooks on the sideline.
There had been some conjecture about Sanders still being the starter after Kenny Gainwell got all the first-team reps at Friday’s practice while Sanders took just second-team reps.
And reporters were ready to pounce when Sirianni went to the podium prior to practice.
“I don’t know where that came from,” said the coach, about Sanders being second-team now. “Our backs rotate. Those first three backs, Kenny (Gainwell), Miles, and Boston (Scott), they rotate three plays in and out for the first two sessions of the period.
“Miles is our guy. Whether it was the way the reps worked out (Friday). It just so happened to be the way the numbers worked, but Miles was in the ones as well and Miles is our guy. It’s no secret, Miles is our guy and we like to rotate our backs, but he’s the guy.”
On Friday, it must have been Gainwell's turn to take first-team reps because the second-year back took them all.
Sanders took the reporting on the matter personally.
Asked his reaction to hearing Sirianni come to his defense on the practice field, Sanders said: “Who made that article? If you’re really watching, you’ll see that everybody rotates.”
Sanders added that he took second-team reps last year, too.
Pressed about his motivation going into Year 4 and what that motivation looks like, the RB said: “Just get the respect I finally deserve. Stop making articles about me being on second team.”
Sanders has to play his part to keep that job, and how he can do that is to stay healthy and be more consistent in catching the football.
"The injuries I had aren’t little injuries," he said. "They’re injuries you can’t really control, so just have a strong mindset and on to the next. Get better and on to the next."
After playing all 16 games as a rookie, a variety of injuries have limited him to 12 games the past two seasons.
“I’m really just trying to take care of my body, even when I don’t have injuries staying in the training room, preventing injuries all year round instead of just going in there when I have nicks and bruises,” he said. “So, staying in there when I don’t have injuries and doing preventive stuff.”
In addition to the injury issues, he has struggled to catch the ball consistently since his rookie season when he hauled in 50 catches for 509 yards and three touchdowns.
He’s had just 54 catches combined the last two years without going over 200 yards in either season.
Last year, he didn't score a touchdown on the ground or in the air despite averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
Gainwell is the better pass catcher out of the backfield and Scott may be as well, which is why it was logical to jump to the conclusion that Gainwell was slowly easing past Sanders in the battle for snaps, because, that is what ultimately matters – the snaps, not who starts.
“Yeah, I got goals, but I don’t want to speak about them,” said Sanders when asked what his expectations were for touches this season. “To be available. Availability is the best ability, that’s all. … I’m just going to do whatever I can to help the team win.”
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Fan Nation Eagles Today and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglesmaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.