HomeDa Birds NewsEagles' LB Group Delivers Fun and Energy in the Face of Injuries

Eagles’ LB Group Delivers Fun and Energy in the Face of Injuries

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PHILADELPHIA – Ben VanSumeren brought the fun, running around like he was a kid again.

Shaq Leonard delivered the energy, waving his arms at the home crowd encouraging them to make as much noise as their Christmas Day, eggnog-soaked vocal cords would allow.

Not bad for a Plan C at the linebacker position.

Even better than the intangible stuff is that they were 1-2 in tackles in the Philadelphia Eagles’ 33-25 win over the New York Giants on Monday with Leonard piling up seven and VanSumeren six.

Shaq Leonard had seven tackles and his first sack since 2020 while playing 87 percent of the defensive snaps in the Eagles’ Week 17 win over the Giants.

© Bill Streicher&comma, USA TODAY

The Eagles have ripped through linebackers at an alarming rate all season long, so it came down to VanSumeren and Leonard to man the fort, especially after Zach Cunningham (knee) and Nick Morrow (abdomen) were ruled out.

Cunningham and Morrow may be back on Sunday when the Eagles host the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17. Both players were listed as limited on the team’s Wednesday injury report.

If they cannot play, the Eagles should be OK, based on how VanSumeren and Leonard performed against the Giants.

“I feel like they did a great job, especially Ben coming in for his first career start and seeing him have fun,” said safety Reed Blankenship. “I feel like that little kid personality came out and he was flying around, having fun, talking, celebrating with everybody. You love to see that.”

VanSumeren’s 36 snaps (57 percent) were the first of his blossoming career on defense and it was also his first start, something he didn’t know he’d make until Christmas morning when the decision was made to sit Morrow.

“I started thinking about it and how is this really going to feel?” he said. “Will I be anxious as it gets closer? I never really was. It felt like playing in the backyard, but (playing) on Christmas Day was cool.”

Matt Patricia was pleased with what he saw from the undrafted rookie.

“That’s exciting for him to be able to get that action in the game, and he’s an extremely fast and explosive player,” said the Eagles senior defensive assistant. “He’s young, so we are trying to get him to slow down, see what you’re seeing, and get your eyes right and all that stuff. From a linebacker standpoint, he’s been real productive and helping our special teams, too.

“So, he’s been on the field from that aspect of it, but it looked like he was having fun out there and he was explosive, which is what he does.”

As for Leonard, he is still trying to find his physical comfort level after back surgery 13 months ago that left him unable to run until June, a month before the Colts’ training camp opened. He played 54 snaps (87 percent).

The Colts wrote him off and cut him before the Eagles swooped in and won a battle against the Dallas Cowboys for Leonard’s services when he signed on Dec. 4.

“Of course, they wrote me off, talked down to me, lied on my name,” he said. “I’m just here to prove that I still got something left in the tank. That’s my goal to come out and just prove to myself that I can still play, and I can still make plays.”

Related: Eagles’ Blankenship ‘Lost Some Sleep’ Over Mistake vs. Giants

Leonard is benefiting from an Eagles scheme that allows him to play downhill in a one-gap system.

“Just trust your instincts and make the play,” said Leonard. “That’s what I was my whole career, just being able to use my instincts, slip out and run. Just play ball.”

Still, to do what he did after less than a month in a new defense is extremely commendable.

“That was great, right?” said Patricia. “Obviously so excited for him to be able to come in and play, and another week, just kind of getting familiar with everything, and man, I thought he made some really aggressive, quick reads. 

“He’s a super instinctual football player, and there are some plays where he saw and triggered, and that I think energized everybody from that standpoint.”

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