Roob's Observations

Roob's observations: Why linebacker VanSumeren is such an intriguing rookie

VanSumeren went from a running back at Michigan to a linebacker at Michigan State

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A training camp long shot to keep an eye on, a wild connection between the Eagles and Cincinnati Reds and an extremely underrated aspect of the Philly Special.

We’ve got it all in this week’s edition of Roob’s 10 random Eagles offseason observations. 

1. Looking for a crazy training camp long shot to keep an eye on? How about Ben VanSumeren, undrafted rookie linebacker from Michigan State? VanSumeren wasn’t invited to the Combine but had a ridiculous pro day in East Lansing, running a 4.4 at 6-foot-1, 237 pounds to go with 29 reps at 225 pounds, a 131-inch broad jump and a 42.5 vertical jump. For the sake of comparison, only one linebacker at this year’s Combine ran 4.4 (Auburn’s Owen Pappoe, the Cards’ 5th-round pick), no linebackers jumped 131 inches (Jags 5th-round pick Yasir Abdullah was tops at 129 inches), no linebackers had a 42.5 vertical (undrafted Saints signee Anfernee Orji hit 38.5) and only Pappoe also did 29 reps. Going back to 2000 — as far back as Combine results are available — only four linebackers have run 4.4 (including Micah Parsons), only four have done 29 reps, eight have jumped 131 inches (including 1st-round picks Isaiah Simmons and Jamin Davis) and nobody has had a 42.5 vertical (three linebackers — including Davis — have recorded a 42).

So why wasn’t VanSumeren drafted? He just hasn’t played much linebacker. He began his college career as a running back at Michigan before transferring across the state and really didn’t play significant snaps at linebacker until this past season, when he started 10 games. He had another year of eligibility but decided to turn pro instead, and he was considered by most draft analysts as at least a late-round talent. The Eagles gave VanSumeren a decent $130,000 guarantee, so you know they like him.

At worst you keep him around on the practice squad and let him learn how to play NFL linebacker. At best maybe he can help out on special teams this year if he has a great camp. He’s clearly a long-term project. But with his athleticism and off-the-charts traits — and the Eagles’ lack of young linebacker prospects — he’s certainly worth keeping an eye on. 

2. The only Eagle with a rushing TD and receiving TD in the same quarter in the last 12 years? DeMarco Murray, of course. In the third quarter of the Eagles’ 26-24 loss to the Falcons in the 2015 opener at the Georgia Dome, Murray scored on an eight-yard TD run and a five-yard TD catch on a pass from Sam Bradford. 

3. Going into the Eagles’ Week 8 game against the Broncos in Denver in 1989, Keith Byars had rushed 34 times for just 87 yards. His 2.6 yards-per-carry was 2nd-worst in the NFL by a running back. Anthony Toney had a slightly better 3.5 rushing average but had been held to 3.0 yards or worse in four of seven games. The Broncos had the 7th-ranked run defense in the NFL and were 3-point favorites over the Eagles.

So what was the game plan that offensive coordinator Ted Plumb hatched? Run Byars and Toney down the Broncos’ throats. The Eagles won the toss and elected to receive, and on their first drive, Byars ran six times for 46 yards, Toney ran five times for 33 yards, Randall Cunningham scrambled once for 22 yards and Mark Higgs had a three-yard gain. The Eagles ran 13 plays on that drive and didn’t throw a pass. Byars capped the drive with a 16-yard TD run.

Byars and Toney had more rushing yards on that drive (79) than the rest of the game combined (55), but Cunningham threw a couple TDs to Jimmie Giles and Cris Carter and the Eagles got out of Denver with a 28-24 win. Brilliant game plan that chilly day at Mile High.

4. In the 7th inning of the Reds' win over the Brewers on Saturday, rookie shortstop Elly De La Cruz became the first Reds player to steal second, third and home in the same inning since … outfielder Greasy Neale in 1919. Yep, the same Greasy Neale who coached the Eagles to the 1948 and 1949 NFL Championships.

Neale had a nine-year MLB career with the Reds and Phillies before becoming a football coach. In 1921, Neale and Casey Stengel were teammates with the Phillies and 26 years later, both coached teams to championships 2 ½ months apart — Neale with the Eagles and Stengel with the Yankees.

Neale also coached Washington & Jefferson to the Rose Bowl in 1921 after baseball season ended. Neale played for the Reds in the scandal-ridden 1919 World Series, the Black Sox Scandal. He had a career .357 postseason batting average, which remains 3rd-highest in Reds history behind Billy Hatcher (.519) and Chris Sabo (.368).

5. If you took Boston Scott’s production against the Giants since 2019 and projected it over a full season, you’d have 842 rushing yards, 1,261 scrimmage yards and 21 touchdowns per year. 

6. How many guys from the 2017 team will end up in the Eagles Hall of Fame? You figure eight are locks: Malcolm Jenkins, Zach Ertz, Nick Foles, Jason Kelce, Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson, Brandon Graham and Jason Peters. Other candidates might be Brent Celek, Jake Elliott, Darren Sproles and Brandon Brooks. Anyone else?

Heck, the Eagles should induct the entire team. Maybe on the 10th anniversary of the Super Bowl in 2027. Kelce can just rush back to the locker room after the halftime ceremony and get ready for the third quarter. 

7. Who’s the only Eagles assistant coach other than Jeff Stoutland who was on Chip Kelly’s original 2013 Eagles coaching staff? How about that T.J. Paganetti. Pags started his coaching career as a student intern at Oregon under Kelly in 2007 and came here with Chip in 2013. He actually returned to Eugene and took grad classes and coached linebackers for Mark Helfrich in Eugene in 2015 and 2016, but Doug Pederson brought him back to Philly in 2017, and he was an offensive assistant on the 2017 championship team.

He worked with Duce Staley coaching running backs coach under Pederson in 2019 and 2020, and when Nick Sirianni arrived, he kept Paganetti as an offensive quality control assistant. This year, Paganetti was promoted to assistant tight ends coach and running game specialist.

8. The Eagles’ three-most lopsided playoff losses in history were all in Dallas: By 24 points in 1992, by 20 points in 2010 and by 19 points in 1995. Yikes. 

9. The most underrated aspect of the Philly Special is how Foles just stands there behind Johnson motionless, looking completely disinterested, hands hanging down at his side as the play develops behind him. Talk about selling the fake. Good lord, Foles was brilliant. Any unusual movement and the Patriots have a tell. But he just stands there. It’s amazing.

And then at the exact right moment he springs into action out of nowhere and dashes into the end zone before the Patriots have any idea what’s going on. If you watch the video, there is literally no New England Patriot visible in the frame. They had no clue. The greatest play ever for like 1,000 different reasons. 

10. Here’s how legendary Inquirer Eagles beat writer Frank O’Gara wrote about the Eagles’ 14-0 win over the Rams in the 1949 NFL Championship Game, played in the rain at L.A. Coliseum: 

“LOS ANGELES. Dec. 19 - There were 340 traffic accidents in this sprawling city yesterday, not including the casualty suffered by the Los Angeles Rams. Newspapers ascribed both directly to the rain – almost two inches of dew dropped within 24 hours – but there would have been auto smashups and the Rams would have received at least as many dented fenders without the circumstances of heavy moisture. That was the opinion of the two-time champion Philadelphia Eagles, who entrained for home this afternoon with a completely valid title to the world’s crown.”

Then he quoted quarterback Tommy Thompson: “They said last year that the snow helped us beat the Chicago Cardinals. So the next two times we played them under perfect weather conditions we murdered them. If it hadn’t rained yesterday it would have been strictly no-contest.”

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