Miles Sanders relishing anticipated role as Carolina Panthers’ 3-down back

Published 11:55 pm Friday, June 9, 2023

By Steve Reed
AP Sports Writer

CHARLOTTE — Miles Sanders relishes the idea of becoming an every down back for the Carolina Panthers this season, a role he didn’t always have with the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles or in the Super Bowl.

Sanders joined the Panthers as a free agent this offseason, signing a four-year, $25 million contract to help Carolina offset the loss of Christian McCaffrey, who was traded last season.

“I’m in a great mood every day,” Sanders said this week at OTAs. “I’m loving who I’m practicing with and who I’m going to war with. And the coaching staff we have is tremendous. They have a lot of experience and knowledge.”

The 26-year-old Sanders is coming off his best year as a professional, rushing for 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns during the 2022 regular season. He added another 132 yards on the ground and two TDs in Philadelphia’s first two playoff games.

But when the Eagles arrived on the game’s biggest stage, Sanders took a backseat to Kenneth Gainwell.

Sanders only got seven carries for 16 yards in the Eagles’ 38-35 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, perhaps the result of fumbling out of bounds on the game’s opening play. He only played 34% of the offensive snaps while Gainwell played more than 50%.

And it was quarterback Jalen Hurts who did the bulk of the damage in the Eagles running game, rushing for 70 yards and three scores.

“Last game of the season? For all of the marbles? Everybody can answer that question,” Sanders said when asked if he was disappointed by how he was used in the Super Bowl. “If they put themselves in my shoes, would they be happy? I don’t want to make headlines, (but) if it does, I don’t care.”

But Sanders said that isn’t the reason he left Philadelphia.

“I can get into that another day, maybe,” Sanders said. “Maybe you should ask them why I’m moving here.”

Sanders had posted on social media after the season that he wanted to return to Philadelphia, but the Eagles appeared unwilling to meet his contractual demands.

So Sanders found a lucrative offer and the promise of more playing time in Carolina, while the Eagles traded a fourth-round pick to the Detroit Lions to acquire D’Andre Swift as his replacement.

The Panthers have high expectations for Sanders moving forward.

“Miles is a three-down back and he can do a little bit of everything,” coach Frank Reich said. “He’s explosive, he’s fast and he has good vision and patience. Really smart. And on third down, when he has to block, he’s a willing blocker.”

Sanders, who will be reunited with running backs coach Duce Staley in Carolina, is expected to get more action in the passing game than in Philadelphia. He proved he could be a valuable asset in that area as a rookie, catching 50 passes for 509 yards with three TDs.

But Sanders’ role in the passing game quickly diminished after that, averaging less than 25 receptions in the past three seasons, including a career-low 20 catches last season.

Gainwell had more receptions (23) than Sanders in 2022.

“This is going to give me more opportunities to help my team win — and that’s all I’m about,” Sanders said. “I’m a team guy and I want to do whatever I can to help our team win. Making it to the Super Bowl is pretty addicting and if I knew the formula I would do it every year.”

Reich said he likes what he’s seen from Sanders so far — on the field and in the locker room.

“That signing was a really big signing for us,” Reich said. “I knew we knew it at the time, but now we really know.”