The common strategy was “twenty-two eyes on 36” for defending Brian Westbrook, one of the all-time great running backs in Eagles history. Westbrook racked up 5,995 in midnight green (third-best in franchise history) while making two Pro Bowls and earning first-team All-Pro in 2007. Safe to say, he’s supremely qualified to comment on the team’s current feature back.
Westbrook, who is serving as a spokesperson for Crown Royal’s Purple Bag Project, jumped on a Zoom call with Heavy.com to talk about the state of the Eagles this year. The 41-year-old retired star sees plenty of positives, but he has also shared some constructive criticism for playmaker Miles Sanders.
Sanders will make his much-anticipated return to the field this week following a four-week hiatus due to a knee injury. He battled a nagging hamstring in training camp and missed the season opener, openly admitting that his conditioning wasn’t where he wanted it to be. It’s way too early to throw the dreaded “injury-prone” label on Sanders, but the 23-year-old needs to be careful.
“I think when you’re younger, a lot of times, you get injured because of crazy things,” Westbrook said. “And I think he’s had some unfortunate injuries and as he continues to age and builds his body up differently, get it ready for the NFL. I think some of the injuries he’s had so far in his career won’t be there as much. He’ll be able to carry the load a little bit better.”
It may be as simple as Sanders just needing to take better care of his body, according to Westbrook.
“It takes time. It takes development,” Westbrook said. “You can’t come in and be an All-Star running back, it doesn’t happen a lot, but to become an All-Star running back your first couple years in the league, you have to learn what they’re asking of you and you have to learn how to perform in the NFL with other grown men, and once he’s able to do that and stay relatively healthy, I think he’ll be fine. Number one thing, he has to stay healthy.”
Make no mistake, Westbrook loves what he’s seen out of Sanders in his first 21 NFL games. He just wants to see more of it.
“He’s got to find a way to get healthy because when he’s healthy the offense looks different, the team certainly looks different,” Westbrook said. “He’s a playmaker, he’s a guy that makes that thing go and he’s a guy they need on the field to make them win.”
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Similarities Between Westbrook and Sanders
There are many similarities between Westbrook and Sanders. Let’s start with their physical builds: Westbrook, at 5-foot-10 and 203 pounds versus Sanders, at 5-foot-11, 211 pounds. Sanders talked about adding weight in the offseason so he would be able to break tackles and outmuscle bigger linebackers. He predicted the bulk would add 200-300 yards to his rushing totals.
Westbrook was a shorter, more compact back but he was known for picking up tough yards, especially at the goal line. The former Eagles great was also adept at running passing routes and catching the ball out of the backfield, often lining up as a receiver. Sanders has shown the same natural ability in Doug Pederson’s pass-happy offense. It was on full display last year during a four-game midseason stretch when Sanders was benched for Jordan Howard.
“To me, that’s the mark of a really great player,” Westbrook said. “That he said, ‘OK, I know what I’m doing early on, working on it and now I need to sit back and learn what’s going, learn how to be an NFL running back, and then go out there and perform better when my team calls on me at the end of the year’ and he was able to do that last season. I think that was critical to the success he was having last season towards the end of the year.”
Westbrook was a shorter, more compact back but he was known for picking up tough yards, especially at the goal line. For Sanders, that part of his game is still a work in progress. The Eagles were rumored to be in the market for a physical “thunder” back to complement Sanders’ “lightning” role. They opted not to add anybody in free agency or at the trade deadline. Westbrook doesn’t think they need to. Sanders, combined with spirited doses of Boston Scott, can handle the load.
“I don’t think the Eagles bring in another running back this season, no,” Westbrook said. “I like what I’ve seen from Boston Scott, I think he’s done a really good job of filling in for Miles. He’s had a couple of good games here. He runs the ball hard. He has really good vision. Great balance. He’s hard to tackle. And he’s a threat out of the backfield as far as catching the football, so I like what I’ve seen from Boston.”
Crown Royal’s Purple Bag Project, Water Break Campaign
Westbrook has been working with Crown Royal for about four years now on a variety of promotional campaigns. The first one places an emphasis on staying hydrated while enjoying your spirits in a socially responsible way. The Canadian whisky brand doesn’t want to discourage football fans from knocking a few back at their tailgate parties, just do it in moderation — and drink water, lots of water in between sips.
“I think it’s really important that the fans go to the game, tailgate at the game, when we’re allowed back into the stadiums and things like that,” Westbrook said. “It’s been important for myself and for Crown Royal as well to get the message out to stay hydrated, drink responsible, drink in moderation, continue to push that you can enjoy the entire day if you just take a step back and drink some water.”
The former NFL star has also partnered with Crown Royal on their “Purple Bag Project,” a noble program started in 2010 that sends a bag of essentials to military people overseas for every person who uses the hashtag #PurpleBagProject on social media. The purple felt-like bag has accompanied every bottle of Crown Royal since 1939. The goal was to supply one million bags to those brave souls serving overseas by the end of 2020, per Westbrook, and they hit that mark on Thursday morning.
“The goal was to do a million,” Westbrook said, “and just found out we hit a million this morning.”
The partnership has been a fruitful one for Westbrook who enjoys giving back to the community as well as drinking Crown Royal. His drink of choice? Crown Apple with a little ginger ale.
“We want to make sure our communities are in a great place,” Westbrook said. “That’s important to me, that’s important to Crown Royal. We want to make sure people can enjoy their sporting events. I love football obviously, Crown Royal loves football and sports, and they are getting involved in more than football right now so our goals and our visions have aligned and I think that’s the most important part of any partnership.”
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