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Training camp phenom Ben VanSumeren could get his shot vs. Giants

With Nick Morrow and Zach Cunningham dealing with injuries, Eagles undrafted rookie Ben VanSumeren could finally get his shot against the Giants on Christmas

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Nick Morrow missed practice Thursday and Friday with an abdominal injury. Zach Cunningham missed both practices with a knee injury. 

Both could miss the Eagles’ crucial game Monday afternoon at the Linc against the Giants.

That leaves two healthy off-ball linebackers on the roster: Shaq Leonard, the newest Eagle, who's still learning the defense and rounding into shape, and undrafted rookie Ben VanSumeren.

Leonard has played 4,189 career snaps. 

VanSumeren has played 0 career snaps.

We know all about Leonard, who played 42 snaps vs. the Cowboys and Seahawks in his first two games with the Eagles.

But what about VanSumeren?

Can he play? 

“I feel very prepared,” VanSumeren said at his locker Friday. “I feel like I'm ready. Actually, I know I'm ready.”

Despite an outstanding training camp, VanSumeren was released with final cuts. At that point, the Eagles had Nakobe Dean and Cunningham starting and Christian Ellis as a depth piece. So VanSumeren spent the first three months of the season on the practice squad, although he was a game-day elevation for the first Cowboys game and the Chiefs. 

The Eagles finally signed VanSumeren to the 53-man roster on Nov. 30, and he’s made an impact with 131 special teams snaps in six games.

Linebacker is a different animal. But he just may have to play his first NFL defensive snaps this weekend.

“I've been getting reps with the defense for a while now to prepare me for stuff like this,” he said. “That's why I'm here, to play. The way I’ve been practicing, I know I‘m ready. I’ve felt that way for some time now.

“I've gradually gotten better every single day and I feel like that's my duty to myself. You know, just to get a little bit better every time you get out there.”

VanSumeren has been trying to get noticed since he was in high school. He played at a tiny high school – Garber High in Essexville, Michigan, not far from Saginaw Bay off Lake Huron – and was lightly recruited. He wound up at Michigan for two years, then transferred to Michigan State, but despite being projected as a 4th- or 5th-round pick, he went undrafted.

One of the reasons he signed with the Eagles was because they have a proven track record of giving undrafted rookies a fair shot. Just this year, they’ve used six undrafted rookies, 14 undrafted players who began their career here and 18 total undrafted players.

“I feel like I've been kind of dealing with that type of adversity really my whole life,” he said. “Really, since I was growing up. I was from an area that was under-recruited and I felt like I had that same chip on my shoulder when I was coming up through high school and when I was in college as when I got here. 

“It's really been no different. But I like it. I like feeling like I’ve got to go out there and prove something. It's definitely a more difficult route, but I wouldn't change it.”

VanSumeren stands 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in energy and athleticism. Anybody who watched the Colts preseason game knows how active he can be. He made 17 tackles on 63 defensive snaps, and that really put him on the map.

But a preseason game in August against the Colts backups is totally different from a critical regular-season game against Saquon Barkley, Darren Waller and the Giants.

“I've learned so much over the last few months,” he said. “I've been lucky that I've got a bunch of veteran guys in the room. Guys that are some of the best around the league. Shaq, Nick, Zach and Nakobe, too.

“Those guys taught me so much. And it's been a gradual thing from really when I came in here, even in OTAs, to now. And I just try and be a sponge and pick up all those little things so I can develop the best I can and just keep getting better.”

Morrow, Leonard and Cunningham are all unsigned beyond this year, so this could be a little bit of a tryout for VanSumeren.

With Ellis now in New England, Dean and VanSumeren - both 23 years old - are the only linebackers under contract beyond this year.

“I know that they've believed in me really from day one, so I'm grateful to be here,” VanSumeren said. “I'm grateful for that opportunity because sometimes people don't get them. Sometimes guys like me, undrafted guys, really get overlooked. Whether it’s defense or special teams, I’m just grateful I’m getting to play football.”

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