Idea: State of the LOUnion Address

Idea: State of the LOUnion Address

For fans who suffered through the post-Brown to Pre-Collins era (alternate names considered for this era included "The Chris Ford Era," "The Randy Ayers Era," and "The Eddie Jordan Era" just to name a few), Lou Williams isn't just one of the longest tenured Sixers, he's the emotional link from the fans to the organization.

Whereas Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday are still building their relationships with the city, and whereas Andre Iguodala's contract has previously been an obstacle to a full embrace from the fans, Lou has really become "the guy."

Once an under-sized high schooler named "Louis," Philadelphia has done what it does best for its athletes -- shortened his name as a sign of affection. Sure, I remember "Louis Williams," but I feel like I have a history with "Lou Williams."

Sixers fans were treated to a whole lot of hype prior to this season's home opener in regard to just how elaborate the festivities would be. There was the mascot vote (that has yet to materialize in a mascot), the makeover of the Sixers dance team (which has been just fine with us), and even the hiring of Broadway light designers (where actually, the improvement has been noticeable).

All of these things are "nice," but, as we've so often made the point over the past year, mostly unnecessary. For basketball fans, the real fun is in the product on the floor. And so, ironically enough for the new owners who had just sunk some cash into some new bells and whistles, I suppose it wasn't any surprise that the most exciting part of that evening's introductions was also the cheapest.

When Lou Williams addressed the crowd following the player introductions, it lasted no longer than six seconds. Still, those six seconds totally trumped, in every way, everything else that had come before or would come after. For six seconds, Lou thanked us for our support, informed us that he had and his teammates had been working extremely hard and promised that the team wouldn't let us down.

Read that sentence again. Watch those six seconds again. Really -- what more could you ask for from an athlete or his team?

Unfortunately for the ongoing events of that night's pregame ceremonies, the indescribable hype I felt after hearing Lou address the crowd was squashed by poor scheduling. It wasn't that I didn't want to hear from Sixers legends like Doc, Moses, Bobby and World or even from the team's new owners in Josh Harris and Adam Aron; I just wanted Lou's words to be the last thing I heard before the the 76ers went out and pummeled the Detroit Pistons. I was amazed how little it took to get me from "excited" to "out of my seat." And, just to clarify, that was from my seat at home; I wasn't even in the building.

So when I did make it down to the Wells Fargo Center for the team's MLK matinee against the Mikwaukee Bucks just a few weeks later, I was looking forward to finally seeing what all the fuss was about with the Broadway lights and everything else. But I sure as hell wasn't expecting another pregame address from Lou.

Astonishingly, I got it. In honor of the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., Lou Williams was handed a microphone shortly before tip-off to thank the fans for coming to the game in memory of King. Again, this took anywhere from 5-10 seconds and I went from wanting to watch a basketball game to screaming for Lou to drop 40 on Brandon Jennings and possibly break one of Jennings' ankles on a crossover.

Sometimes, it's the littlest touches that make the biggest difference. In the end, we don't need elaborate lights or a new dance team or free Big Mac vouchers. All we need is Andrew Toney to be welcomed back to the organization and for Lou Williams to tell us that he and his teammates won't let us down.

Given how The Flyers' "God Bless America" routine has become unfortunately over-exposed in recent years, I suggest that the Sixers develop a little tradition of their own, but only for special occasions. Call it the Lou Williams pregame monologue -- or, for you political junkies who are really revved up for tonight, The State of the LOUnion Address.

Potential topics for Lou's unexpected pregame monologues include (but are not limited to): "No one thinks we have a shot in hell to win the NBA Title, but we do. Thanks for your support," "This is a big one tonight, so we're gonna need y'all to get loud. Thanks for your support," and "There's just something about Nick Young's face that makes me want to go for 50 tonight. Thanks for your support."

Really, if Lou Williams can talk his way out of a mugging, imagine what he can talk you into just moments before a game.

Snap counts: Dorial Green-Beckham's playing time continues to increase

Snap counts: Dorial Green-Beckham's playing time continues to increase

Wendell Smallwood played just seven snaps and had just three carries coming into Sunday's game against the Steelers. 

In his third game, the rookie fifth-rounder from West Virginia led the Eagles in snaps and rushing attempts. 

Smallwood carries 17 times on his 24 snaps — many as the Eagles worked to run out the clock. Smallwood rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown, impressing his teammates along the way (see story). It was the best rushing performance for an Eagles rookie since Bryce Brown in 2012. 

Smallwood and Sproles each had 24 snaps. Kenjon Barner had 12 and starter Ryan Mathews had just eight. After the game, head coach Doug Pederson said Mathews was being evaluated. The running back had an ankle injury not long ago. 

As far as the rest of the offense, the entire starting line and Carson Wentz played all 65 offensive snaps. 

Jordan Matthews led the way for the wide receivers with 55 snaps. Dorial Green-Beckham continues to be more involved, going from 32 percent to 46 percent to 49 percent of offensive snaps on Sunday. He appears to be ahead of Josh Huff in many cases. 

The poor Eagles defense had to play 60 snaps on Sunday after two straight weeks with 52. Last year, the Eagles' defense averaged over 74 snaps per game. 

The Eagles have held the ball for 34-plus minutes in three consecutive games for the first time since 2008. 

What really stands out on the defensive snap counts is that Mychal Kendricks had just nine snaps on Sunday. Kendricks, who came into the game with a broken nose and a quad injury, is still a starter but has been demoted. He's no longer in the team's nickel package. 

Another interesting note is that while Vinny Curry began the spring practices as a starter, he was overtaken by Brandon Graham. Now Graham is playing so well it's hard to take him off the field. Connor Barwin led the defensive ends with 47 snaps on Sunday, followed by Graham's 42. Curry had just 26. Curry got a big contract in the offseason, but is clearly the third D-end. 

Through three games, here are the snap counts for the Eagles' top three defensive ends: 

Barwin — 124

Graham — 115

Curry — 74

Meanwhile, Destiny Vaeao picked up 19 snaps as he continues to show he's a solid depth piece. And Stephen Tulloch got 11 as Jim Schwartz continues a little rotation at linebacker. 

Here are full snap counts from Sunday's game: 

Offense

Allen Barbre: 65 snaps (100 percent)

Brandon Brooks: 65 (100)

Lane Johnson: 65 (100)

Jason Peters: 65 (100)

Jason Kelce: 65 (100)

Carson Wentz: 65 (100)

Jordan Matthews: 55 (85)

Nelson Agholor: 52 (80)

Brent Celek: 45 (80)

Trey Burton: 33 (51)

Dorial Green-Beckham: 32 (49)

Josh Huff: 26 (40)

Wendell Smallwood: 24 (37)

Darren Sproles: 24 (37)

Matt Tobin: 12 (18)

Kenjon Barner: 12 (18)

Ryan Mathews: 8 (12)

Beau Allen: 1 (2)

Stefen Wisniewski: 1 (2)

Defense

Malcolm Jenkins: 60 snaps (100 percent)

Rodney McLeod: 60 (100)

Nolan Carroll: 60 (100)

Ron Brooks: 58 (97)

Nigel Bradham: 56 (93)

Jalen Mills: 53 (88)

Jordan Hicks: 49 (82)

Connor Barwin: 47 (78)

Brandon Graham: 42 (70)

Fletcher Cox: 41 (68)

Bennie Logan: 29 (48)

Vinny Curry: 26 (43)

Destiny Vaeao: 19 (32)

Beau Allen: 17 (28)

Marcus Smith: 13 (22)

Stephen Tulloch: 11 (18)

Mychal Kendricks: 9 (15)

Steven Means: 6 (10)

Jaylen Watkins: 3 (5)

Najee Goode: 1 (2)

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler played with Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez when the two were growing up in Cuba. They traveled together to Venezuela for a youth tournament.

Soler said Fernandez's ability was obvious, right from the start.

"Since he was a child, since we were kids, I knew he had something," Soler said through a translator. "He had a talent. It was very impressive."

Fernandez's death in a boating accident at the age of 24 cast a dark shadow over the major leagues on Sunday. Miami's home game against Atlanta was canceled, and several ballparks observed moments of silence. Wrigley Field's iconic hand-operated scoreboard displayed Fernandez's No. 16 in its pitching column next to Miami.

But the loss of Fernandez was felt most acutely in baseball's growing Cuban community.

"He was one of those guys that everybody loved," St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena said. "He was one of those guys that everybody knew exactly what he meant to our community. For us, it's a big, big loss. It's one of those things where our thoughts and prayers are obviously with his family, the Marlins' organization and the fans. But it gets a little bit closer because he was part of our Cuban family."

There were 23 Cubans on opening-day major league rosters this year, an increase of five over last season and the most since the commissioner's office began releasing data in 1995. Many of the players share similar stories when it comes to their perilous journey from the communist country to the majors, and the difficulty of adjusting to life in the United States.

A native of Santa Clara, Cuba, Fernandez was unsuccessful in his first three attempts to defect, and spent several months in prison. At 15, Fernandez and his mother finally made it to Mexico, and were reunited in Florida with his father, who had escaped from Cuba two years earlier.

He was drafted by the Marlins in 2011, and quickly turned into one of the majors' top pitchers.

"How he was on the mound was a reflection of him," Oakland first baseman Yonder Alonso said. "A guy who had a lot of fun, was himself. A very talkative guy, he would come into the room and you'd know he was in the room. Never big-leagued anyone, very professional. No matter what, he would talk to you about hitting, because he thought he was the best hitter, and he (would) talk to you about pitching, because he thought he was the best pitcher."

Alonso said Fernandez's death was "a big-time shock." Yasiel Puig used torn pieces of white athletic tape to display Fernandez's jersey on the wall in the home dugout at Dodger Stadium. Cardinals rookie Aledmys Diaz, who had known Fernandez since they were little kids, declined an interview request through a team spokeswoman.

"We Cuban players know each other well and all of us have a great relationship," Pena said. "For us, it's devastating news when we woke up. We were sending text messages to each other and we were showing support. It's something that obviously nobody expects."

Fernandez, who became a U.S. citizen last year, also was beloved for his stature in the Cuban community in Miami.

"He was a great humanitarian," Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman said through a translator. "He gave a lot to the community and I think that's why he got a lot of respect from the community in terms of what a great person he was and always giving, in terms of always willing to help out in whatever way he can to try to better and progress within the community someone that perhaps wasn't as fortunate as he was."

The 28-year-old Chapman lives in the Miami-area in the offseason. He said he spent some time with Fernandez while he was home.

"He would come by my house. I would go by his," Chapman said. "We would have long conversations. We would talk a lot. We spent a lot of good amount of time together. It was very special for me."