CHARLOTTE — Duce Staley had the rookie version of Miles Sanders in Philadelphia and liked him a great deal.
This one, he seems to love, and vice versa.
The veteran running backs coach and the player he advocated for heavily in free agency are reunited on the practice field this week, with Sanders returning from a groin injury that kept him out of the first two preseason games and Staley going right back to working him the way Sanders has come to expect.
"When I first got with the guys, I just told them all how Duce was," Sanders said Tuesday. "I was like, just come in, locked in, and just be ready to work. To be teachable, be coachable, and he's going to love you.
"And that's kind of what it is, and they feel what type of guy he is. He puts his heart and soul into this, and he puts all his time trying to make us better. And they all feel that and see that, and it's a real love and bond in the room. We got each other's back."
To call Staley's on-field style intense undersells it dramatically. He's here to bring the "juice," as he describes it, and not just when he's trash-talking with safety Vonn Bell or other defenders. He works Sanders and the rest of the backs with the same kind of manic energy, all day, every day.
Asked if that took some getting used to, Sanders laughed. "No, I kind of had some coaches with, . . ." he began, twirling a finger along the side of the head. "I had some crazy coaches in my time, starting from high school."
But seriously, he told them to take in every word, because he's seen firsthand how it works.
"He's going to get the best out of you, and that's basically what I want everybody to just know," Sanders said. "He's just trying to get the best out of you and just embrace it. You know, training camp is supposed to be hard.
"It's supposed to be tough so we can make the games easier, so just embrace it."
Staley knew Sanders could play. When they were together in Philly in 2019, Sanders ran for a solid 818 yards, and had 50 receptions.
But the production wasn't the only part that hooked Staley, not even after he saw Sanders come out of the committee to become a bell cow back last year and run for 1,269 yards.
That part is enticing, however, and there's a visible difference in the Panthers' offense, even in practice, when Sanders is on the field.
"Miles has that dog inside him that I love since having him in Philly," Staley said. "His preparation, his focus, just getting back, being able to feel good after suffering an injury, of course, was number one. And I tell you what, man, he's been working his butt off every day to get back and practice first."
But the intangibles, like work ethic and sharing his knowledge with the younger generation, were something Staley couldn't have reasonably been able to expect.
"I do," Staley replied when asked if he saw a difference between this version and the rookie he knew. "And that has a lot to do with age being older, being in different offenses, understanding these offenses as far as protections, routes, understanding his role in the offense. And you look at him last year, man, I was just really proud of him, what he was able to do in Philly, the numbers speak for themselves.
"Just hearing him talk, hear him speak to the guys and giving his opinion on certain things that you see on film, hearing him out there on the field coaching those guys is kind of different because I had him as a rookie. And, sometimes, I look back to see if that's his voice, and I'll be like, 'OK, I like this.' So just that leadership, and one thing about Miles, Miles is one of those who can feel the room.
"So he'll tell you, 'If I need to go out there and lead by example, I will. If I need to go out there and lead verbally, I will.' And he's done both."
The simple fact of his presence should make a difference for the Panthers' starting offense, which has managed one scoring drive (a field goal) in limited preseason work. But the Panthers went out and got Sanders specifically for his ability to help a rookie quarterback, and to provide the ballast a developing offense needs.
Sanders said he believes this offense will be "explosive," and having him back on the field will certainly help. Staley alluded to the possibility that he could even play in Friday's preseason finale.
Sanders said his only goal now was to "get tired, and work through the tired."
That's the attitude Staley loves, and Sanders has shown that when he's been on the field, not minding at all when Sanders takes practice runs the length of the field.
"I practice hard, try to finish every run through the end zone, stuff like that, and Duce is on us for stuff like that," he said.
That's the kind of "grinding" he can't wait to do more of since he's convinced this offense — with him in it — can be special.
"You guys don't see the practices that we do, so we're grinding every day," Sanders said. "I won't let the preseason dictate whatever the season is going to be. Everybody knows what the preseason is for, it's for guys to have an opportunity to make the team.
"So, I wouldn't necessarily judge it based off that, but us grinding every day in practice. I could say that, yeah, we're gonna be very explosive and hopefully hard to beat if we just keep grinding and taking it day by day."
That's the attitude Staley likes. And having Sanders show it to others by example is the kind of thing he loves.
View photos of the Panthers practicing on Monday before their preseason finale against the Lions.