Williams embracing different role under Eagles' new regime

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Williams embracing different role under Eagles' new regime

He had been with the Eagles for 18 years. He wasn’t sure whether there would be a 19th season.

Ted Williams has been a fixture in Philadelphia for almost two decades, and yet he hasn’t gotten much attention. He served under Ray Rhodes. He served under Andy Reid. He wanted to keep serving the Eagles organization but he wasn’t sure that would happen. When one head coach is fired and someone new replaces him, there tends to be quite a bit of turnover.

Williams, who had been the Eagles’ running backs coach for the last 16 years, wanted to stick around and work with Chip Kelly, but he was also prepared to say goodbye. He was ready for all sorts of scenarios.

“After 18 years, you kind of say to yourself ‘Anything is possible,” Williams said. “Fortunately, I was in a position, in my own mind, to go, stay or do nothing. It worked out in my favor, but I was never at a point where I lost a lot of sleep over it.”

Williams said he’s always felt as though the organization is “pro Ted Williams” and that he would be afforded every opportunity to “interview and make an impression” with Kelly. That’s what happened. Williams, along with Duce Staley, is one of only two coaches from the Reid administration to be retained by Kelly.

“All in all, it’s how you get along with other people that really matters,” Williams said at the NovaCare Complex. “We kind of sold each other in terms of what [Kelly] was looking for and was I able and willing to do what he wanted done. I think we came to a mutual agreement right away that I didn’t have an ego, and I wasn’t one of those individuals who gets older and gets set in his ways.”

That’s probably a good thing, because Williams’ ways are about to change. After what he emphasized was “a long time” as the Eagles’ running backs coach, Williams will serve as the Eagles’ tight ends coach in the Kelly regime.

It’s not an entirely new pursuit for Williams -- though it has been a while since he coached the position. Under Rhodes, Williams coached tight ends for two seasons. As Williams admitted, a lot has changed since then.

In recent seasons, the emergence of players such as Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham -- along with the continued success of Tony Gonzalez -- has altered how some teams use their tight ends. Williams noted that, during his last stint coaching the position, tight ends weren’t necessarily seen as a potentially dangerous offensive option.

“When I was a tight ends coach, they weren’t so involved in the passing game as they are now,” Williams said. “Even though they’ve evolved to a passing-game tight end, there are still some things we did 16 years ago that they need to learn how to do.”

Brent Celek led the Eagles’ tight ends last year with 57 catches on 87 targets for 684 yards. He also had a touchdown. Williams said he’s still in the process of evaluating the team’s talent at the position -- along with how he can use those players in a forward-thinking approach.

“For me, the process is to ascertain how far the position has come since I coached it,” Williams admitted. “That’s a real process. The things that were done 16, 17 years ago, some of them are not done anymore. Some things that we used to do are done better now. That’s my challenge. To be enthusiastic and energetic about learning new things and processing new things, so I can be a better coach.”

Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Between recent wins and Joel Embiid’s All-Star push, fans are buying their Sixers gear.

According to Fanatics.com, a sports apparel website partnered with the four major sports, the Sixers rank fourth among all NBA teams in total merchandise sales over the past seven days. The Warriors, Cavaliers and Bulls are ahead of them.

Joel Embiid was the fifth-best selling player over that period. His popularity has risen during his enthusiastic All-Star campaign, which included celebrity shoutouts and an outpour of social media activity. Embiid is now up to 553,000 Twitter followers.

The Sixers have ranked in the league’s top 10 of merchandise sales since the beginning of the 2016-17 season. They hold the largest year-over-year increase during that time frame in the NBA this season.

In September, Ben Simmons ranked in the top 10 of NBA players in merchandise sales since draft night.

Sales from the Sixers' and NBA's official online stores are included in these statistics.

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

The Sixers are clicking just in time to face their toughest competition in over a month. The Raptors (28-13) come to Philadelphia as the Sixers have won six of their last eight games by holding one another accountable and taking each outing step-by-step.

“You feel like the group is coming together,” Brett Brown said. “You feel like all the work that we have put in is starting to pay dividends in relation to a solid foundation.”

The Raptors sit second in the Eastern Conference, just one and a half games behind the Cavaliers. The last time they met, the Raptors beat the Sixers 123-114 on Dec. 14 at the Wells Fargo Center.

A lot has changed since then, especially the rotations. Brown started Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together against the Raptors, an experiment that waned out after six games. The Sixers have found a formula to winning with an established starting lineup and a consistent second unit, with the added experience of Gerald Henderson and Nerlens Noel. They will be tested Wednesday as both Joel Embiid (illness) and T.J. McConnell (wrist) are questionable.

“When you look at this team, it’s a lot of talent but we didn’t play as a team,” Ilyasova said of the start of the season. “Now we come together. I think it’s all about the chemistry, we trust each other.”

The Sixers are looking to carry over the momentum of a 113-104 victory over the Bucks in Milwaukee on Monday. They got a test of All-Star caliber talent against Giannis Antetokounmpo, whom they held to two points in the second half. The Sixers will have their hands full with the backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry (22.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.2 assists) and DeMar DeRozan (28.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists).

One key to countering talent like that placing an importance on accountability. The players are not letting each other off the hook for mistakes on the court, regardless of who the opponent is.

“I could see it over the past couple weeks, guys coming out here and being more vocal on both ends of the court,” Noel said. “If one guy messes up, you’ve got to let him know so it won’t be a recurring thing. With that, guys are taking steps in the right direction, both leadership roles because everybody on this team can be a leader in their own way.”

The Raptors come in on a four-game winning streak.