December 23, 2023   6 MIN READ

‘Ready To Go’

Rookie LB Ben VanSumeren Poised To Play


On the heels of an eight-week stint on the Eagles’ practice squad, rookie linebacker Ben VanSumeren has since served as a core special teams contributor for coordinator Michael Clay, solidifying the interior in both coverage and protection while collecting a pair of tackles.

The last time we saw the uber-athletic 22-year-old at linebacker – his position of trade – you’d have to go back to the late-August preseason finale against Indianapolis Colts, a 27-13 loss in which VanSumeren accounted for an astronomical 17 tackles.

The Michigan State grad irrefutably needed refinement of his insticnts, but his athleticism and range were glaring.

The consensus was that if the Eagles were eventually able to marry that enticing blend of characteristics with development, he could emerge into a game-day contributor.

That could be Christmas.

Ben VanSumeren

ITB PHOTO: Injuries could force undrafted rookie LB Ben VanSumeren into the defense Monday vs. the Giants.

VanSumeren, a self-described sponge who’s been keen on absorbing as much knowledge as possible from coaches and veteran teammates, is poised to play against the New York Giants on Monday because of injuries at his position.

As of Friday, starters Zach Cunningham (knee) and Nicholas Morrow (abdomen) hadn’t practiced, leaving only VanSumeren and veteran newcomer Shaquille Leonard to assume the full workload when the Eagles are in two-linebacker personnel groups, which is usually common.

Against a listless Giants team, there’s probably greater optimism that Leonard — who doubled his snap count Monday night to 28 in his second game as an Eagle – can hold down the fort, provided that Cunningham and Morrow return soon.

But the spotlight inevitably shifts to Leonard’s inexperienced counterpart, VanSumeren.

Even before undertaking the lion’s share of  practice snaps this week, VanSumeren said he’s always been prepared for his role, big or small.

“I feel like I’ve been prepared for a while,” the undrafted rookie said. “I’ve been getting reps with the defense for some time now to prepare me for this opportunity.  I’m ready to go.”

Listening to VanSumeren discuss his progress and seeing results manifest on Sundays, it’s hard to believe he was omitted from the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine invite list.

Instead, it was his eye-popping Pro Day numbers – which included a 42 1/2-inch vertical, 10-foot-11 broad jump, 29 reps of 225 on the bench press and 4.4 40-yard dash time – that would override his modest college numbers and placed him on NFL radars.

VanSumeren’s fluidity in space, sideline-to-sideline speed, and relentless pursuit were his obvious draws, but forecasting the ability to harness the raw attributes suggested a project – one that could pay dividends if the right team was willing to develop him.

Now 14 games into his rookie season, VanSumeren is quickly able to pinpoint where he’s seen the most strides.

“I know that my instincts have come a long, long way,” VanSumeren said. “I know since I got here, with some of the coaching points that they’ve given me and just from reps and the different reads and stuff that I get, that’s one of my strong points now.

“I know I’m an energy guy, I’m a physical guy, I can make every play on the field. And my instincts have come a really long way.”

How does someone improve a characteristic that’s often viewed as inherent?

“I know that I’ve had it,” VanSumeren said, without hesitation. “I’m a football player, I’ve been playing football my entire life, but some of the things that I’ve taken from the guys in the room, some of the things I’ve taken from getting a bunch of reps – I’m getting reps this week ’cause there’s opportunity for me to play – but ever since I got here, I’ve gotten a good amount of reps.

“And seeing these things and seeing how NFL offenses work, I’m a guy who picks things up really, really quickly. I always have. So I think that’s really benefitted me.”

VanSumeren was also quick to acknowledge the hidden benefit of learning behind season veterans such as Cunningham and Morrow, as both have been crucial to the rookie’s development by imparting wisdom, mentorship, and tutelage throughout the season.

Naturally, VanSumeren has absorbed their perceptiveness in the film room and on the practice field, helping him blend the physical and mental aspects of the game.

“They’ve been helping me a lot, but it’s not just a this-week thing,” VanSumeren said. “These guys have been so good to me, really ever since I came in here, teaching me stuff.

“Just talking to them, it’s obvious that they’re veteran players. It’s evident that some of the things they’re sharing with me are from the perspective of a guy that’s played in the league for a long, long time. I’m grateful to have those guys around me.”

It’s possible that Cunningham or Morrow – or both – are able to play Monday against the Giants, which would keep VanSumeren sidelined.

But even so, VanSumeren will have to stay close to the sideline, as the tenacious rookie could still be called on for defensive duties at a position that will be responsible for minimizing the damage from Giants running back Saquon Barkley and tight end Darren Waller.

“He’s continuing to progress and you really see his athletic ability,” head coach Nick Sirianni said Saturday. “It’s on display. We’re really excited about his progression and the things he’s done. We’re really happy with the [linebacker] room.”

Fortunately for the Eagles, the pre-draft intrigue surrounding VanSumeren, coupled with his superhuman athletic traits, didn’t lead to another team poaching him from the practice squad earlier this season.

VanSumeren instead has been marinating and honing his craft behind the scenes, never wavering in confidence as he waited for his opportunity.

Through developmental periods, practice squad nurturing and roster elevations, the Eagles have doubled down in their support and investment in VanSumeren.

They’re seemingly intent on seeing his development through.

“I just know that they believe in me,” he said. “And belief in somebody goes a long way. I felt that really since Day 1, since I came in here, and I’m incredibly grateful for it.

“And it’s not just a ‘me’ thing; it’s really everybody on this team. Just to let them be themselves and let them do their thing. I’m always focused on getting 1% better every day.

“I feel like it’s my duty to do so for myself, and for the staff and the people that believe in me. God. So, I feel good about things.”

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for

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