Penn State connection has four Eagles feeling right at home

Miles Sanders and Shareef Miller have roster spot locked, but for Ryan Bates and DeAndre Thompkins it will be a battle

Receiver DeAndre Thompkins got in the huddle and liked what he saw. There was offensive lineman Ryan Bates, and running back Miles Sanders, too.

It was like being back at Penn State all over again.

“It’s nice to have somebody you can lean on, guys you can talk to, guys you know personally and not having to build a lot of relationships with other guys you don’t really know,” said Thompkins, the former Penn State wide receiver now an undrafted trying to earn a spot with the Eagles. “To have that comfort, to look over in the huddle and know I have somebody I’ve been in a huddle with for four years is pretty cool.”

There’s a fourth Penn State player on the roster, too. That would be defensive end Shareef Miller.

Miller and Sanders (wearing No. 24 in above photo) have a spot on the roster already locked up, since they were drafted in April. Thompkins (wearing No. 3 in above photo) and Bates are battling to earn a spot.”

They will all try to end up together though when all is said and done.

“It’s pretty cool, just seeing how things came up and ending the way it did, having three teammates that I had that are still my teammates,” said Sanders during last weekend’s rookie minicamp. “That’s pretty cool. We’re going through the same thing, just on a different level of dreams coming true. We’re just going through the whole process with each other.”

Thompkins could find a role as a punt returner. The Eagles really don’t have one of those, unless Darren Sproles decides to return and the Eagles decide they still want him. At Penn State, he averaged 10.2 yards per return on 66 returns with two touchdowns.

“I’m a punt returner, they don’t have a punt returner, so that’s an opportunity,” said Thompkins. “That’s how I look at it. I have to go out and prove myself. If I earn a spot, I earn it, but to me right now that’s an opportunity. I just have to go out and earn it.”

That’s what it’s all about for Bates, too.

Making the 53-man roster seemed more do-able for Bates when rookie camp ended Sunday, but the Eagles signed veteran Stefen Wisniewski, a starter on the offensive line that helped the Eagles win Super Bowl LII.

“I picked the Eagles because it was the best option for me,” said Bates. “Depth wise, the offensive line right now, they have some injuries and some people getting old. It was just a good opportunity for me coming to an organization to try to make a name for myself.”

Bates made a name for himself in the Philadelphia area as a standout on the football team at local high school Archbishop Wood. The Vikings won two state titles with Bates on their line.

He grew up an Eagles fan, and now he calls it “a dream come true” to have the opportunity to play for his hometown team.

“I bleed green,” said Bates.

Bates can play any position on the line, which should go a long way toward either earning spot on the 53-man roster or the practice squad.

Right now, there appear to be nine roster locks on the O-line: Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Isaac Seumalo, Brandon Brooks, Jason Kelce, Andre Dillard, Jordan Mailata, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Wisniewski.

Vaitai could be traded this summer and Brooks could be a candidate for the PUP (physically unable to perform) list, which may be a bit extreme. Going on the PUP would sideline Brooks for the first six weeks of the season, giving his repaired Achilles more time to heal. That would seem unlikely, so as it stands there looks to be only one, maybe two jobs available up front.

What are the Eagles getting in Bates?

“He’s a dog inside,” said Thompkins. “He’s going to do whatever he has to block whoever he has to block and he’s going to get his job done.”

How about Sanders?

“A competitor, somebody who’s going to pay attention to the details,” said Thompkins, “and just grind every day to earn his spot and make his name his name.”

All four former Nittany Lions will try to make their own name in their own way this summer, and do it on the same team.