A lengthy training camp to watch, 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 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 back with 29 reps at 225 pounds, a 131-inch broad jump and a 42 .5 vertical jump . For 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 (the Jags’ 5th-round pick Yasir Abdullah topped 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 no one has had a 42.5 vertical (three linebackers — including Davis — have registered a 42).
So why wasn’t the VanSumeren drafted? He just hasn’t played linebacker much. He began his college career as a running back at Michigan before transferring all-state and really didn’t play significant snaps at linebacker until this past season, when he started 10 games. He had one more year of eligibility but decided to go pro instead, and he was considered at least a late-round talent by most draft analysts. The Eagles gave VanSumeren a decent $130,000 guarantee, so you know they like him.
At worst, you keep him on the practice squad and let him learn to play NFL linebacker. At best, he might help on special teams this year if he has a great camp. He is clearly a long-term project. But with his athleticism and off-the-charts moves — and the Eagles’ lack of young linebacker prospects — he’s definitely 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. Entering 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 pair of TDs to Jimmie Giles and Cris Carter and the Eagles edged Denver with a 28-24 -victory. Brilliant game plan on the 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 the same Greasy Neale who coached the Eagles to NFL championships in 1948 and 1949.
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 teams were coaching for 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 the 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 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 could be Brent Celek, Jake Elliott, Darren Sproles and Brandon Brooks. Somebody else?
Heck, the Eagles should take the whole 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 is the only Eagles assistant coach besides Jeff Stoutland who was on Chip Kelly’s original 2013 Eagles coaching staff? How about that TJ Paganetti. Pags started his coaching career as a student intern at Oregon under Kelly in 2007 and joined Chip in 2013. He actually returned to Eugene and took 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.
He worked with Duce Staley as the running backs coach under Pederson in 2019 and 2020, and when Nick Sirianni arrived, he retained 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 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 behind Johnson motionless, looking completely disinterested, hands hanging by his side as the play unfolds behind him. Talk about selling the fake. Lord, Foles was brilliant. Any unusual movement and the Patriots have a story to tell. But he just stands there. It is fantastic.
And then at just the right moment, he leaps 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 idea. The best game ever for 1,000 different reasons.
10. Here’s how legendary Inquirer Eagles beat writer Frank O’Gara wrote about the Eagles’ 14-0 victory over the Rams in the 1949 NFL Championship Game, played in the rain at the LA Coliseum:
“LOS ANGELES. Dec. 19 – There were 340 traffic accidents in this sprawling city yesterday, not including the loss of the Los Angeles Rams. The newspapers attributed both directly to the rain – nearly two inches of dew fell within 24 hours – but there would have been auto-smashups, and the Rams would have received at least as many dented fenders without the high humidity conditions. That was the opinion of the two-time champion Philadelphia Eagles, who this afternoon with a perfectly valid title to the crown of the world raised at home.”
Then he quoted quarterback Tommy Thompson: “They said last year the snow helped us beat the Chicago Cardinals. So the next two times we played them in perfect weather, we murdered them. If it hadn’t rained yesterday, it would have been strictly prohibited.