In-House Notes from Opening Night at the Birds

In-House Notes from Opening Night at the Birds

As Matt P. already detailed the larger narrative of last night's game, we figured we would add in some other notes of interest for those of you who can't get enough football in August.

So fortunate to be in attendance last night, I was able to scrape together these in-house notes without the guiding hand of the broadcast. Maybe Tolly addressed these in detail. Maybe he didn't. Either way, I'm sure he did it with style.

Think of this as a "who was wearing what and how they looked" kind of thread. Oh, and if you're down for the not-so-subtle impact of post-lockout rule changes, you're in the right place. And now here we go with that which was overwhelmingly noticeable from last night's Eagles-Ravens preseason opener…
1. Vince Young's Familiarity with the Offense—An Attempt to Exhaust Ronnie Brown

While Kulp did his best to convince you of Vince Young's overwhelming capability as a quarterback in the NFL yesterday, we would all do well to temper that optimism with the realization that VY remains unfamiliar with the offense today. And, to borrow from Seinfeld, "it's not like there's anything wrong with that." The guy has had only—what?—less than two weeks to learn the offense that has long-been considered one of the complex in football.

With exactly that in mind, coach Andy Reid announced prior to last night's game that the playbook would be scaled down for the opener in the interest of letting some of the new players show off their athletic skills without having to constantly think their way through the process. When asked for his response, Young seemed grateful for the reprieve, mentioning that his goal for the evening was simply "to make sure I get the guys out of the huddle."

Leading the offense for 17 plays, Young would throw just five times, completing three attempts. Through he dropped back on three other occasions, those plays would result in a sack, an intentional grounding penalty and a 6-yard scramble to pick up a first down.

As VY was doing his best Shane-Falco-dance-around-the-throw-up-in-the-huddle ("Look at it this way, it's the first thing they're doing as a team!"), Ronnie Brown was doing his best not to get injured in the preseason. On those 17 plays spearheaded by Young, Brown touched the ball 10 times, finishing with a total of 9 rushes for 22 yards and 1 reception for 7. After touching the ball more than 50% of the time he was on the field, Brown must have felt like he was still a member of the Dolphins.

And though his contributions Thursday night still aren't any indication of his potential usage rate once the season starts, it was nonetheless entertaining to see what he could do. Hopefully, for the sake of LeSean McCoy and the Eagles rushing attack, Brown isn't so overworked in the preseason as to potentially injure himself, his unfortunate shortcoming in years past.

2. "We Re-Signed Brian Westbrook and He Changed His Name? Oh, that's Ronnie Brown"

While it was great to see No. 36 swinging out for a screen pass and making a guy miss on the sideline, it was a little disheartening to realize it wasn't Brian Westbrook.

For fans perhaps opposed to recycling B-West's number so quickly, Philly.com's Sheil Kapadia has authored a piece explaining the necessity of using 36 in the preseason. Bottom line, Brown won't be keeping the number when it comes time for the real Week 1.

"...An Eagles spokesman said the No. 36 is temporary. The Eagles have 90 guys on their roster and seven retired numbers. That doesn't leave many other options open right now."

Kapadia goes on to discuss not only the acceptable use of No. 36, but also numbers 5 and 20. It's a good read about the honoring the past, while nonetheless moving forward. As you'll be able to tell from a quick look at the article's comment section, retiring numbers is an especially divisive issue and—from a fan's perspective—more often based on subjective emotion than any sort of objective metric.

3. Nnamdi as a Red Zone Threat, Just Kidding, But Seriously…

Alright, that cat is huge. Watching Nnamdi line up across from receivers he's as tall, if not taller than is certainly a departure from the days of our once-small secondary.

Having not seen much of Asomugha's career on the west coast, it's absolutely no wonder that he's become as dominant as he has with that combination of height, speed and athleticism. I know we didn't sign Plax, but maybe Vick can start throwing jump balls to Nnamdi. Just a thought. Not for real. But maybe…

Oh, and while we're discussing new cornerbacks and old jersey numbers, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie took the field last night in what was once-Troy Vincent's No. 23. Is it a big deal? No. But do we notice these things? Yeah. (Note: The Eagles are advertising DRC jerseys with the No. 45 in their game day programs, so he too may be in line for a jersey change.)

4. Post-Lockout Rule Changes [In two parts labeled "A" and "B"]

Separate from the doling out of $9 trillion dollars and making sure retired players receive the healthcare they so deserve, there were a few rule changes attached to the return of football. Two of those adjustments proved evident Thursday night, leaving some fans, and even Andy Reid, at least a little confused.

A. Kick-offs Now Take Place from 35, Hope You Weren't a Fan of the Return Game

Seeing as how I got a beer, went to the bathroom once or twice and left with seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter, this stat may not be exact, but I did not once see a kick brought back out of the end zone.

In the interest of making the game safer and its players less susceptible to injury, kick-offs have been moved forward, resulting in less of an opportunity to return the football. One needs only to think of Ellis Hobbs' special teams incident last year to understand at least some of the motivation behind the move.

Still, at no point did you ever think "this guy is going to take off."

Following the USA-Mexico soccer game Wednesday night, the touch lines were still visible on the field's surface. Colored over in black so as not to be distracting, though still noticeable, Wednesday's end-line provided an especially interesting perspective on the new return game, as it worked to effectively bisect the end zone. With the benefit of that added perspective, it was easy to see that nearly every kickoff landed in the last five yards of those end zones. Some kicks sailed out the back entirely.

Granted, the wind will work to change some of the dynamic as the season progresses, but return game figures to become far less of a factor in football given the new rules, an obviously difficult realization for specialists like Devin Hester and Leon Washington. Already voicing opposition to the change, Cleveland Browns returner Josh Cribbs tweeted:

 “I see an immediate amendment on the kickoff rule either b4 the end of the year or beginning of next year bc without that part of the return game it might as well be a scrimmage....”

After watching exactly what you did at the Linc Thursday night, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was similarly moved to comment: “To me, it will swing the balance of the play dramatically to the kickoff team.”

Even with all that in mind, another trip to Cribbs' Twitter page will reveal his celebration of a 103-yard return during the third quarter of last night's San Diego Chargers-Seattle Seahawks game.

B. "Marty, Should We Challenge?" "They're Already Reviewing it, Andy." "Oh, Really?!"

What would have potentially been a Mike-Kafka fumble returned for a touchdown during the third quarter was called back after an official review.

Looking up at the video screen and walking the length of the sideline toward the north end zone, Andy repeatedly reached for the red flag dangling from his pocket. Though he never pulled it out, his gestures indicated that he was certainly considering it.

What those in attendance later came to realize was that the officials had already overturned the play themselves. While I couldn't see if anyone actually went under the tent, or if the referees just huddled to get the call right, this was the first instance in which the new replay rules may or may not have come into effect.

In short, all scoring plays are now reviewable without a coach having to weigh the benefit of objecting to a play versus the risk of losing a timeout. So, for those of you who cringe every time Andy has one of these decisions to make, you can all take some comfort. At least some of the responsibility, some of the time, has been taken out of his hands.

Regardless of whether or not video reviewed was used—again, I couldn't really tell—the Kafka-not-fumble did expose one of the new rule's coolest wrinkles. What if Raven running toward the end zone had the presence of mind to purposefully step out of bounds just before reaching the goal line?

Granted, he would have to be more than confident in his offense's ability to convert from the one-yard-line, but since it wasn't a scoring play, the turn of events would have forced Reid to potentially gamble a timeout without the benefit of an automatic review. There is a Brian-Westbrook-lays-down-at-the-one-to-keep-the-clock-moving moment in some bright athlete's future if he is smart enough to realize it.

Like the new rules? Hate em? Think Nnamdi should be on the field every play, offense and defense (still kidding, maybe)? Want more, less of Ronnie Brown? Predisposed to hate DRC out of love for Troy Vincent? See you in the comments.

Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

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Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

As the Western Conference Finals are taking place in Oakland, the Sixers are looking for new talent of their own in California.

This week, members of the Sixers' front office are attending pre-draft workouts organized through multiple agencies, including BDA Sports Management, CAA Sports, Landmark Sports Agency, Octagon and Wasserman Media Group.

While the Sixers hold the No. 1 pick, these workouts are opportunities for them to evaluate players that could be fits for their 24th and 26th selections.

On Thursday, the list of workout participants included projected first-rounders Deyonta Davis (Michigan State) and Cheik Diallo (Kansas), according to the Philadelphia Inquirer

The scouting process takes NBA teams coast to coast. Earlier this week, the Sixers reportedly attended a private workout with Excel Sports Management in New York City, in which Brandon Ingram and Jamal Murray participated.

The Sixers have held two workouts at their own practice facility, bringing in a total of 12 prospects thus far.

As the draft nears, 57 early-entry candidates withdrew their names from the 2016 draft.

NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry, Warriors fight off elimination

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NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry, Warriors fight off elimination

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND, Calif. -- "We ain't going home! We're not going home!" Stephen Curry screamed at the top of his lungs.

No, his Golden State Warriors are going back to Oklahoma City, after keeping their title reign and the winningest season in NBA history alive for at least one more game.

Curry scored 31 points, raising his arms in the early moments to fire up Golden State's raucous crowd, and the defending champions staved off elimination with a 120-111 victory over the Thunder on Thursday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.

"We just did what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to win at home," Curry said. "We know what we still have to do going forward. ... We knew if we didn't win we were going home. There's no other motivation you need."

For all the speculation about the current state of Curry's beat-up body -- that troublesome ankle, sore knee or tender elbow -- he did it all.

"I thought he looked like 91 percent," coach Steve Kerr cracked. "He came out and played a really good game. That's all I can tell you. He's going to compete every night. He had an excellent night and helped us get it done."

Led by Curry, the Warriors looked like their old winning selves again.

The MVP made a snazzy layup late and dished out six assists, while Klay Thompson added 27 points as Golden State sent the best the best-of-seven series back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 on Saturday night. The Warriors trail 3-2 and are trying to become just the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit.

"None of us want to go home," Thompson said. "We're having too much fun out there."

Kevin Durant scored 40 points and Russell Westbrook added 31 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and five steals for the Thunder, trying for the fifth NBA Finals appearance in franchise history and first championship since moving from Seattle.

The record-setting, 73-win Warriors, coming off their first back-to-back defeats all season, had been blown out in two losses at Oklahoma City by a combined 52 points.

"We have to take that game and travel," Curry said of keeping momentum.

Durant's 3-pointer with 4:34 left got the Thunder within 103-98, then Curry answered with a three-point play.

Curry scored seven points in a 58-second stretch of the second quarter and hit more big shots late, but the Thunder didn't go away easily.

"I liked our will, I liked our fight," Kerr said. "We were embarrassed in OKC the last couple games."

Trailing 58-50 at halftime, Oklahoma City came out of the break with a 9-2 run. Westbrook's 3-pointer with 6:06 left in the third put Oklahoma City ahead 68-67 for its first lead of the night. But Golden State led 81-77 going into the fourth and began the final period with an 8-0 burst.

"We didn't shoot a particularly good percentage when we got into the lane and got into the deep paint," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "We had our opportunities."

Curry shot 9 for 20 and also had five steals, while Thompson had his 11th 20-point game for the second straight postseason despite shooting 2 for 9 from 3-point range. After struggling the past two games, Draymond Green had 11 points and 13 rebounds a day after receiving some encouraging words from Kobe Bryant on the phone.

"We really relied on the entire team tonight, which is when we're at our best," Curry said.

Kerr figured his Warriors might have an edge against the percentages of teams having trailed 3-1 because they're the defending champs and were playing at home, where they have been nearly unbeatable.

He wasn't surprised to see this team respond so well.

"We played with great desperation," Kerr said. "I knew how we would play. This is a championship team."

Kerr called for center Andrew Bogut to do more and the 7-footer delivered with a playoff career-high 15 points and 14 rebounds for his second double-double this postseason and seventh of his career.

Marreese Speights had a pair of three-point plays on follow shots and a 3 in the second quarter to give Golden State a nice lift off the bench. He had nine points in four minutes during that stretch and 14 points overall for his fifth double-digit scoring game this postseason.

"Their bench came in and made shots, made plays for them," Durant said. "We know we're going home. We can't relax."

Golden State made 31 of 34 free throws.

With his 1,248th career postseason point in the third, Curry passed Wilt Chamberlain (1,246) for second place on the franchise's playoff scoring list.

"That's who he is, that's what he's done, and that's what's made him a very good player," Donovan said.

Tip-ins
Thunder: The franchise lost in the finals in 1977-78, 1995-96 to Kerr and the Chicago Bulls and in `12. ... Steven Adams sat down with his second foul at the 9:34 mark of the first quarter. The Thunder had seven fouls to Golden State's one after the first. ... Oklahoma City took Game 1 at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost only three times all season. ... The Thunder started the game 3 for 14.

Warriors: Green picked up his fifth technical of the postseason. He also has at least one steal in 16 straight playoff games. ... Golden State missed six of its first seven 3s. ... The Warriors supported Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager with "Sager Strong" T-shirts for sale to support awareness and research for leukemia and lymphoma, both blood cancers.

Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

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Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Jose Fernandez struck out 12 in seven innings Thursday and won his sixth straight start for the Miami Marlins, a 9-1 decision over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Fernandez (7-2) struck out eight of the last 10 batters he faced and struck out every hitter in the Rays lineup at least once. The 23-year-old right-hander from Tampa gave up six hits in beating his hometown Rays for the first time in three tries. He finished the game with 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings, highest among major league starters.

Adeiny Hechavarria and Chris Johnson homered for the Marlins, who won three of four in their annual series against the Rays.

Hechavarria's third home run drove in the final two runs of a three-run second inning off Rays starter Drew Smyly. Johnson made it 5-0 with his second homer an inning later, Johnson's first hit in 22 interleague at bats (see full recap).

Rockies silence Red Sox, Bradley's hit streak
BOSTON -- Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story and Dustin Garneau hit two-run homers and the Colorado Rockies stopped Jackie Bradley Jr.'s 29-game hitting streak with a 8-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night.

The win ended a three-game losing streak by Colorado and it ended a four-game winning streak for the Red Sox. Bradley's major league-best streak was halted when he went 0 for 4 after moving up to the leadoff spot for the first time this season.

Jon Gray (2-2) gave up a two-run home run to David Ortiz in the first, but pitched six scoreless innings before leaving in the eighth.

Clay Buchholz (2-5) took the loss. He pitched three perfect innings before things came apart in the fourth, when he gave up Gonzalez's homer with the other two coming the following inning (see full recap).

Happ leads Blue Jays past Yankees
NEW YORK -- J.A. Happ pitched seven strong innings, Edwin Encarnacion and Devon Travis had two-out RBIs, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Yankees 3-1 on Thursday to win the three-game series.

CC Sabathia was the tough-luck loser for New York, allowing just two unearned runs. Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in his first game since going on the disabled list May 4 with a strained right hamstring.

Happ (6-2) allowed one run on three hits in seven innings with five strikeouts and three walks. He has given up three earned runs or fewer in 19 of his last 20 starts.

Sabathia (3-3) retired the first seven batters before an error by shortstop Didi Gregorius on Travis' grounder with one out in the third (see full recap).