Five Eagles We're Watching on Defense vs. Pittsburgh

Five Eagles We're Watching on Defense vs. Pittsburgh

We are only hours away from an Eagles kickoff, and while we have to keep telling ourselves it's only preseason, we are genuinely excited for some football around here. Yesterday we talked about our five Eagles we'll be watching on offense in tonight's game, so naturally today we're delving into the other side of the ball.

The defense will be without several big-name players tonight, so the star power is a bit lacking, but the starters generally play a quarter max in the first preseason game anyway. That put the emphasis on a collection of young players, and we're struck by how many could play important roles for Juan Castillo in the season ahead. Up first though, he's a new face, but a name that's been around the league for awhile.

DeMeco Ryans

It's amazing to think that the Birds have not had a stable situation at middle linebacker since heading into the '09 campaign. Undoubtedly the Eagles' biggest offseason acquisition, Thursday marks the first time we'll get a glimpse of two-time Pro Bowler DeMeco Ryans in midnight green. Heralded not only as the answer in the middle of the defense, but also as the group's leader, all eyes will be on Ryans tonight to see if he is 100% after suffering a ruptured Achilles two seasons ago.

The concern in Philly is the team acquired damaged goods in their trade with the Texans. Houston was willing to part with Ryans for a fourth-round pick and a swap of thirds, in part because he didn't fit their switch to a 3-4 defense, in part because they were no longer getting their money's worth at $6 million-plus per year. Ryans saw his role reduced in the new system, appearing in less than 60% of the club's snaps in 2011.

His reduction in playing time could be explained one of two ways. Some worry the coaches simply lost confidence in Ryans after his injury, but in reality the Texans spent a lot of the time in dime personnel, which replaces one of the interior linebackers with a defensive back to better defend against the pass. That's the big difference as Ryans moves back to the 4-3 where he's most comfortable. The Eagles are counting on him as a three-down linebacker, so his athleticism coming off of that injury will be tested in coverage tonight.

Along with rookie Mychal Kendricks and second-year backer Brian Rolle, the Birds debut an all-new look at linebacker tonight. It should be a lot of fun.

Brandon Graham

Both Jason Babin and Trent Cole were ruled out tonight, so Brandon Graham should not only start, but see plenty of action throughout. It will be the first significant playing time for the former first-round pick since December 2010, as his recovery from microfracture surgery limited him to three games and 56 snaps last season. As we wrote about previously, it's critical that Graham make an impression in these exhibitions if he has a chance to crack the rotation at defensive end and shake the bust label. Very excited to see what he can do in year three.

Fletcher Cox

This one is a no-brainer, and arguably could have topped the list. The Eagles moved up three spots in April's draft to select Fletcher Cox with the 12th overall pick, so naturally we want to see what the new kid brings to the table. Standing 6-4, 298 lbs., the 21 year old has been billed as a penetrating defensive tackle who will disrupt plays in the backfield and could eventually draw double teams -- a perfect fit for D-line coach Jim Washburn's scheme.

While we just want to see if Cox is as good as advertised, it will also be interesting to see if the coaches move him around at all. Chances are they will save this look for a real situation, but there has been talk of Cox also lining up on the end.

Curtis Marsh

Curtis Marsh is another young player we already discussed a couple weeks back, as he has stepped into the role as the primary backup to Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at corner this offseason. He'll get plenty of action with the twos, but we'll be looking for the package with all three on the field at the same time -- Marsh and DRC on the outside, Asomugha on the inside. A third-round pick who seldom played in his rookie season, Marsh has good size (6-1, 197) and is physical with receivers. It will be our first real shot of him since last summer.

Jaiquawn Jarrett

Yet another kid, at one point second-year safety Jaiquawn Jarrett was having one of the more tumultuous offseasons of anybody on the roster. Coaches were mum on Jarrett during mini-camps, and afterward the team signed veteran O.J. Atogwe, all of which caused many in the media to openly wonder whether the Temple product would even wind up making the team.

When Jarrett was taken in the second round of 2011's draft, there was an expectation he would make an immediate impact in the secondary. Instead he was lost, and despite poor safety play especially early on in the season, JJ couldn't get on the field. Of course, he had a fairly reasonable excuse not being ready to hit the ground running in that the lockout wiped away off-season programs that are especially valuable to incoming rookies. After all, the safety position isn't all about running around making big hits.

With Nate Allen our of the lineup tonight, all of a sudden Jarrett is likely in the starting lineup alongside Kurt Coleman, which would put to rest any ideas the coaches were just going to give up on him after last season. He still has a long way to go before shaking the stigma that he was a reach, and we suspect he'll stay on the field for awhile when the rest of the starters come out, as every rep is crucial right now. Clearly though the playing field is finally level for Jarrett this year.

Joel Embiid not named All-Star starter, can still make it as reserve

Joel Embiid not named All-Star starter, can still make it as reserve

Joel Embiid will have to hope NBA coaches trust the process.

Embiid on Thursday was not named a starter in the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler locked in the three Eastern Conference frontcourt spots. Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan rounded out the backcourt.

James (25.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 8.1 assists) and Antetokounmpo (23.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists) were locks as starters. That left Butler, Kevin Love and Embiid as the next in contention. Butler is a two-time All-Star averaging 24.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 36.8 minutes for the 21-22 Bulls. Love is posting 20.7 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 31.6 minutes per game on the Eastern Conference-leading, 29-11 Cavaliers.

The Western Conference starting spots went to Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis. 

The voting was made up of fan votes (50 percent), player votes (25 percent) and media votes (25 percent). Embiid has a chance to be voted in by the NBA coaches, whose reserve selections will be announced on Jan. 26. 

Embiid would have been named a starter had the results been based on fan voting (50 percent). He finished third ahead of Love and Butler.

Embiid was in the running for a starting role during a breakout rookie season. He is averaging 19.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game. Even though his playing time is capped at 28 minutes, he ranks seventh among all players in scoring per 48 minutes. He is eighth overall in free throw attempts per game (7.9) and 10th in those made (6.2).

Embiid had obstacles, though, when it came to the voting: rookie status, 28-minute restriction, limited games played (29) because of his allocated workload, and the Sixers’ record.

Even though the All-Star Game highlights individual achievements, team record is often taken into consideration. The Sixers have won seven of their last nine games (see story), but still stand well below .500 at 14-26.

When it came to the players’ vote, it is hard for a rookie who hasn’t even competed against every team in the league to make a strong enough impression for another player to influence their perception of the top talent. Embiid finished outside of the top five in the players' vote, behind James, Antetokounmpo, Butler, Paul George and Kristaps Porzingis. Meanwhile, the Sixers' big man finished fifth in the media vote.

Embiid and the Sixers were very active in pushing for the fan votes. Embiid received the social media support of celebrities including Triple H, Kevin Hart and MLB MVP Mike Trout, among others. The Sixers promoted Embiid through a Shirley Temple campaign based on his favorite drink.

Embiid picked up major steam in the last week of voting. He had trailed Love by 16,028 fan votes in the second returns on Jan. 12.

He took to Twitter to express his gratitude.

Chip Kelly still jobless after swinging and missing with Jaguars

Chip Kelly still jobless after swinging and missing with Jaguars

Chip Kelly's job search continues.

The beloved (sarcasm) former Eagles head coach reportedly interviewed for the Jaguars' offensive coordinator opening. However, on Wednesday night, Jacksonville announced it was retaining Nathaniel Hackett as its OC.

“We are excited to announce Nathaniel Hackett as our offensive coordinator and he will immediately be tasked with installing and implementing our offense this offseason,” Jaguars new head coach Doug Marrone said in a statement from the team. “I have had the pleasure of working with Nathaniel for seven consecutive seasons and know firsthand how knowledgeable and passionate he is about winning.”

So, Kelly swung and miss twice on the Jaguars, as he reportedly interviewed for Jacksonville's head coaching job, as well.

"I’m not going to close the door on any opportunity, but I have to be very smart in what I do next,” Kelly said, via CSNBayArea.com, two days after his firing as 49ers head coach. “I don’t have to take anything, but I wouldn’t rule anything out. I need to make sure that I’m in the right situation.

“I don’t know what the future holds. I’ll do my due diligence. I’m not going to coach just to coach.”

Kelly's decline is staggering, even if you saw it coming.

Look at this NFL coaching history ...

With Eagles in 2013: 10-6, wild-card playoff berth
With Eagles in 2014: 10-6, missed playoffs
With Eagles in 2015: 6-9, fired before final regular-season game
With 49ers in 2016: 2-14, fired after regular season

Who knows what's next for the Chipper?