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August 08, 2019

Who's ahead in battle to be Eagles starting running back: Jordan Howard or Miles Sanders?

You are probably reading this article for one (or more) of the following reasons.

  1. You are an Eagles fan and are genuinely invested in who the team plays at running back
  2. You are a Penn State fan who wants to see Miles Sanders succeed.
  3. You have a fantasy draft in a few weeks and need to know whether Jordan Howard or Sanders will be the Eagles' RB1.

Thursday night's preseason opening game between Philly and the visiting Titans did very little to add evidence to either one's case.

Both of the running backs suited up and played — a somewhat surprising choice for the veteran Howard, but one that gave fans someone to key in on in a game played otherwise by backups on both sides of the ball.

"[I] wanted to see him live," head coach Doug Pederson said after the 27-10 loss. "Wanted to get him out there. He and Miles Sanders split the time in the first quarter, and seeing both of those guys together, that was the plan going in."

Howard got the first carry — and therefore the start Thursday.

Sanders got his first carry in the second series of the game. As has been running backs coach Duce Staley's method during his time with the Eagles, he generally switches things up unless there is a hot hand (and sometimes even if there is). Sanders and Howard seemed to alternate chances early on.

Neither RB seemed to be able to get anything running behind the makeshift second-team offensive line with Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Jason Peters and Brandon Brooks all sitting out the preseason opener. 

“We just have to come back to work on Saturday and just get better," Sanders said, subtly acknowledging the unimpressive showing from the entire run game — five running backs combined for 16 carries and just 36 yards in the game. "We have three more games to get opportunities right and that is what we are going to do.”

There are some things that are not dependent on the offensive line, however, and in pass protection Sanders looked very rookie-like, especially on the Eagles first scoring drive that ended with a long field goal after a Sanders misstep.

It's worth noting, in Sanders' defense Jordan Mailata was also partially responsible for the sack of Nate Sudfeld.

Howard and Sanders combined for 11 yards on six carries before being replaced by Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood and other Eagles running backs — not exactly a useful sample to project much heading into the regular season.

While next Thursday in Jacksonville should give both Sanders and Howard opportunities to impress in public, Sanders has gotten quite a bit of praise for his performance in private at Eagles training camp.

Here's a look at what our own Jimmy Kempski wrote back on Monday in regards to Sanders' fantasy value:

Sanders is clearly the best running back on the team, and in my view, it's not even close. Additionally, coming out of college, there were concerns about his pass protection and receiving abilities, but he has been good enough in both areas during his rookie training camp that those potential issues won't keep him off the field. 
Sanders should play early and often, but will RB coach Duce Staley (who controls the RB rotation) fall too much in love with putting Darren Sproles on the field, as he has done in the past? The Eagles will always take a committee approach to some degree, but the bet here is that Sanders shows that he is clearly the best running back on the team in actual games, and it's only a matter of time before he's starting and making plays.

What we can surmise from Thursday is that the Eagles more or less view Howard and Sanders as equals and the duo looks like they could split featured back duties at least early on. And if Sanders is able to flash in games what he has in practice he may slowly seize the lion-share of carries.

One thing is for sure about Sanders, however. He certainly has the inside track at winning Eagles fans' hearts.

“It was crazy," Sanders said Thursday night. "It is everything I have been dreaming about. With a place like this, the fan base is crazy. Coming from Penn State, I felt that same vibe I felt at Penn State.”

RELATED: Will Miles Sanders ultimately be the Eagles' starting running back this season?

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