One day after a practice at Penn State, Miles Sanders and Saquon Barkley ran sprints against one another.
The two running backs were “brothers” off the field, but fiercely competitive on it. Barkley was a sophomore coming off a solid first season when Sanders, a five-star recruit, joined the fold.
“Every single day [back then], I’m bringing out the best out of him, he’s bringing the best out of me,” Sanders said on Friday. “... We’d always do stuff after practice, too, so it was always me and him, locked in, just trying to get better.”
Barkley, now with the Giants, held his spot down and limited Sanders’ carries, but it wasn’t for the Pittsburgh native’s lack of trying.
“We just competed the whole time,” Barkley said during a conference call on Thursday. “But in a friendly way. I remember we were out there doing sprints one time time after a workout. Just me, him, working on speed, working on sprints going against each other.”
Sanders waited his turn at Penn State, and represented himself well enough once Barkley was gone to become a second-round pick in last April’s NFL Draft, one year after the New York Giants took Barkley with the second pick in the 2018 draft. Going from teammates to division rivals, the two still have a mutual admiration for one another.
They had a FaceTime call earlier this week. Barkley said they didn’t have much of a competitive back-and-forth, more focused on how Sanders was feeling this late in the season and asking about his family. They did confirm the obvious: A jersey-swap is in the works.
“That’s definitely going to have to go down,” Barkley said.
With Jordan Howard missing the Eagles’ last three games and still limited in practice with a shoulder stinger, Sanders has emerged as the Eagles lead running back. He had the best game of his career against the Miami Dolphins, rushing for 83 yards on 17 carries, both season highs for the Eagles’ rookie.
Sanders, who also caught a touchdown pass against the Dolphins, has made strides as a versatile back this year.
“I really felt last week we took some steps with Miles," Pederson said. “I thought he had a really good game rushing the football. Offensive line has done well and we continue to show improvement there with Miles.”
Before Howard injured his shoulder against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 3, Sanders was used primarily as an elusive, receiving back with Howard being more of a bruiser.
But in the last few weeks, Sanders has shown a capability of running between the tackles as the Eagles relied on him as the lead back. Howard still leads the team in rushing yards with 525, but Sanders, currently at 520, is closing in on him.
Howard isn’t the only back Sanders could surpass with a solid game, though. Barkley has 544 yards this season after missing three weeks and battling a high-ankle sprain for most of the year.
Sanders isn’t worried about the one-on-one matchups between him and Barkley in the game, though.
“I’d be pretty selfish to tell you that I’m focused on Saquon,” Sanders said. “For real, for real, I’m really just focused on getting a W. We’ve got some stuff to handle. We’ve got a future ahead of us, it’s just dependent on what we do. ... It’s going to be fun, but I’m also focused on something else.”
When asked about out-rushing Sanders in the game, Barkley had a similar sentiment, adding there are a lot of factors that go into who has a higher rushing total.
“It’s not like it’s a quarterback-quarterback matchup,” Barkley said. “Running back against running back matchups, a lot of things indicate who has a better game. I’m not too focused on out-rushing Miles, he’s one of my really good friends. I wish nothing but the best for him."