Penn State coach James Franklin sees Miles Sanders as a team leader

Fiesta Bowl Football
Penn State’s Miles Sanders running against Washington during the Fiesta Bowl in December.

Miles Sanders is in a leadership role for the first time since high school. After two seasons of seeking advice from Saquon Barkley, Mark Allen, and Andre Robinson, among other Penn State running backs, Sanders is now giving advice to the younger Nittany Lions.

And he said he feels comfortable doing it. The running back has been studying the playbook for two years and said he is ready to step up in the starting role.

“Obviously, he could have played a lot of places the past two years,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “But I think the combination of how he did play, how he prepared, and who he was behind, training and learning and watching all those championship habits and behaviors, I think he’s pretty far along right now.”

While Franklin is satisfied with the 5-foot-11, 211-pound running back, the coach wasn’t happy with the team’s performance at practice Wednesday, saying it was sloppy, full of penalties and dropped balls.

Sanders agreed and chalked it up to the team’s being young again. To fill the hole of players Penn State lost to graduation and the NFL draft, he feels a responsibility to step up in a leadership role and be more vocal.

“I’m used to it from high school,” Sanders said. “But for me not being a starter, I’m just getting back to being comfortable with it.”

Redshirt sophomore Journey Brown often asks Sanders questions about the running back position, which was dominated by Barkley the last three years.

“I told him, ‘If you don’t know, just ask.’ I was in that same position,” he said.

In addition to working on his leadership style, Sanders has been practicing catching the ball out of  the backfield, an area he aims to improve. During winter workouts, the running backs, wide receivers, and quarterback Trace McSorley took time to catch every day after lifting.

And it is paying off for Sanders.

“The challenge is,” Franklin said, “he’ll make four people miss and go 80 [yards], and we’re all like, ‘Next play,’ because we’ve been a little spoiled with Saquon Barkley the past few years. But I do think Miles is in that conversation in terms of what he’s been able to show and what he’s been able to do so far.”

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