First Down? DeMeco Ryans. Second Down? DeMeco Ryans. Third Down...

First Down? DeMeco Ryans. Second Down? DeMeco Ryans. Third Down...

That's his name, so don't want to wear it out -- especially before one real game has been played.

hope was that DeMeco Ryans would come over from the Houston Texans and
stabilize a linebacker corps that was woefully in over their heads just a
season ago. Unfairly or not, his arrival has been met with mixed
reviews thus far -- I'll go on the record as siding with "unfairly."
Nonetheless, the seventh-year veteran's athleticism has been called into
question since an Achilles injury struck in 2010, and the idea he is
still a three-down player is exactly that: an idea.

An idea that
is one step closer to fiction after practice on Thursday, where Jamar
Chaney reportedly took most of the snaps in nickel packages for the
Eagles. We have no way of knowing what the plan actually is until
Sunday, but it sounds an awful lot like the coaches intend to dip into
their depth quite a bit, further supporting the storyline Ryans might
not be the cure-all we had hoped.

For those of you waiting for
Kulp Spadaro to somehow spin this development into a positive, I'm not
going to do that. Upon sending a fourth-round pick to Houston to acquire
Ryans during the offseason, the Eagles declared a three-down linebacker
was bringing his talents to Philadelphia. With the regular season
suddenly upon us, the coaching staff has suggested they are not so
comfortable with Ryans in coverage.

It's not very difficult to
see where they are coming from, either. Learning a new system or not,
Ryans doesn't look particularly speedy. For whatever it's worth, he
didn't make a single outstanding play in coverage during the preseason.
Heck, part of the reason the Texans sent him here was because they
weren't using him on passing downs, so none of this should come as
terribly surprising.

But does this latest development mean
trading for Ryans was a misstep? Even assuming coverage could be a
problem, many have expected "more" from a two-time Pro Bowler. While it
is true his body of work has been more than that of a merely adequate linebacker, his
status as a superstar may have been vastly overblown.

Ryans was never
an amazing athlete, nor was he an incredible playmaker. Just look at the
stats. He didn't do anything special in coverage. He wasn't remarkable
rushing the passer. Yet whatever it is he did, he was widely considered
one of the better linebackers in the NFL.

My opinion is once the
real thing finally gets started, fans will be happy with Ryans. For all
the talk of expectations, few seem to truly understand what the Eagles
have brought in to the middle of their defense -- a leader, physically
imposing, who understands his role and will demonstrate how to tackle.

DeMeco Ryans as a three-down linebacker? Eh... we'll see. As a major upgrade over what the Eagles had a year ago? Duh.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as he liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fade away jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guy’s first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of (Hakeem) Olajuawon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).