Why Duce Staley keeps having visions of Ricky Watters and Charlie Garner


Duce Staley has seen first-hand all the great Eagles running back tandems of the modern era.

If he didn't coach them, he was part of them.

Duce was an Eagles rookie in 1997, when Ricky Watters netted over 1,500 yards from scrimmage and Charlie Garner added close to 800.

In 2001, Staley had over 1,200 net yards and Correll Buckhalter over 700. By 2003, Brian Westbrook had joined Staley and Buck for the vaunted three-headed monster that carried the Eagles to the NFC Championship Game.

Even Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles each had over 750 net yards under Staley's watch in 2016. And in 2017, he coached Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount to big years during the Super Bowl run.

“You know how we do it around here,” Staley said Thursday. “We’ve been doing it as far as running back by rotation for a long time.”

And that’s the case again this year with Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders.

Staley spent seven years with the Eagles as a player, and he’s now in his ninth year as coach, having served under Andy Reid, Chip Kelly and Doug Pederson.

And after all those terrific tandems, Howard and Sanders could wind up being one of the best.

Both are young, both are talented, both work well together, and they have the benefit of an offensive line that’s playing at a high level.

Nine games in, Sanders has 641 scrimmrage yards and Howard has 594. This is the first time two Eagles running backs have had 500 yards from scrimmage and at least a 4.0 rushing average after nine games since 1973 (Norm Bulaich, Tom Sullivan.

The Eagles have never had two running backs with 1,000 scrimmage yards in the same seaason. Sanders and Howard are on pace to get there

When Duce watches them, who does he see?

“I think, honestly, they remind me Charlie Garner and Rickey Watters, thunder and lighting,” he said. “That’s what it reminds me of every time I see them out on the field.”

Howard has 525 rushing yards,  a 4.4 average and seven touchdowns. Sanders has over 300 yards both rushing and receiving.

In Staley’s scenario, Howard is Watters, a tough, physical inside runner, and Sanders is Garner, a faster, more elusive back.

“You look at Jordan, he’s always falling forward, he’s always falling forward,” Staley said. “What we take pride in is if nothing’s there, getting back to the line of scrimmage. That’s very important. It’s hard to call plays for 2nd and 13, but if it’s 2nd-and-10 it’s a little easier.”

As for Sanders, he just gets better and better each week. Since Week 3, he’s 12th among all NFL running backs in scrimmage yards.

“He’s slowly but surely coming along,” Staley said. “Some of my teachings, some of T.J,’s teachings (T.J. Paginetti, assistant running backs coach). We take pride in ball security, we take pride in protecting the quarterback, and he’s already a natural runner, so slowly but surely he’s coming along.”

The Eagles are among seven teams with two running backs on pace for 1,000 scrimmage yards.

If you want to put the football in the hands of a couple tough, physical, versatile rotational running backs, it’s hard to imagine a better young tandem than Jordan and Sanders.

And if  you're going to pick the perfect guy to coach a couple tough, physical, versatile rotational backs, it’s hard to imagine a better guy than Duce.

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