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.

Flyers reveal 2017 Stadium Series jerseys

Flyers reveal 2017 Stadium Series jerseys

Back in black.

The Flyers on Saturday morning revealed their 2017 Stadium Series jerseys for their Feb. 25 outdoor game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field.

With their 50th anniversary sweaters resembling their current away jerseys with gold outlining throughout, the Flyers have gone back to black and orange for the outdoor game.

The jersey is almost all black, with an orange name plate and an orange elbow stripe. Orange is sprinkled throughout the jersey.

In addition to the outdoor game, the Flyers will also wear the jersey against the Penguins on March 15 at the Wells Fargo Center, a Wednesday Night Rivalry game.

Pittsburgh unveiled its Stadium Series jersey back on Nov. 25, an all gold uniform in celebration of its 50th season.

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

OKLAHOMA CITY -- James Harden scored 21 points, and the Houston Rockets overcame Russell Westbrook's seventh consecutive triple-double to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 102-99 on Friday night.

Harden also had 12 assists and nine rebounds to help the Rockets win their fifth straight. Houston withstood Harden's 6-for-23 shooting effort.

Westbrook finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He has the longest triple-double streak since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989. The most in a row is nine by Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain in March 1968.

It was Westbrook's 12th triple-double this season and the 49th of his career. He is the NBA's active leader in the category and ranks sixth all-time.

The Thunder had won the previous six games during Westbrook's triple-double binge (see full story).

James moves into 9th on scoring list as Cavs top Heat
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 27 points to move into ninth place on the NBA scoring list, and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Miami Heat 114-84 on Friday night.

James passed Elvin Hayes on a driving layup with 6:58 remaining and has 27,315 career points. The four-time MVP was removed about a minute later and received a loud ovation from the Cleveland crowd.

Kevin Love, a game-time decision because of back spasms, scored a team-high 28 points and had 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers. He missed the morning shootaround but was in the lineup after warming up on the court about an hour before tip-off.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points for the Cavs, who have won three straight after losing three in a row.

Derrick Williams scored 17 points to lead the short-handed Heat, who have lost four straight (see full story). 

Schroder has career-high 33, Hawks rally past Bucks
MILWAUKEE -- Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 33 points and the Atlanta Hawks rallied from 20 down in the second half to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 114-110 on Friday night.

Paul Millsap had 23 points and 14 rebounds for Atlanta. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18.

The Hawks, who ended a seven-game losing streak Wednesday with a win over Miami, trailed by 20 at halftime. A 40-point third quarter put them back in the game.

Jabari Parker scored 27 for Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo, in foul trouble throughout the game, had 14.

Atlanta pulled ahead 105-103 on Kyle Korver's jumper with 3:15 remaining, giving the Hawks their first lead since early in the game (see full story).