Kelce's Season Is Finished, What Now At Center?

Kelce's Season Is Finished, What Now At Center?

The bad news came down on Tuesday morning, and that it was sort of expected doesn't help to soften the blow any. A scope revealed the partial tear of Jason Kelce's ACL will require surgery after all, knocking the second-year center out for the remainder of this season.

The Eagles turn now turn to 6-4, 320-lbs. Dallas Reynolds to anchor the middle of their offensive line. The 28 year old participated in his first NFL game when he relieved Kelce in the third quarter on Sunday, and actually performed quite well. How he will respond over the course of a full season is anybody's guess.

Center injuries are nothing new for the Birds. In fact, this is the third season out of four the starter has wound up on injured reserve.

In 2009, Jamaal Jackson suffered a torn ACL in their Week 16 game against the Denver Broncos. Nick Cole slid over from right guard to replace Jackson, and in his place was a juggling act between Stacy Andrews and Max Jean-Gilles. The line predictably wilted, as Donovan McNabb was sacked four times in back-to-back losses to the Cowboys to euthanize the season.

Jackson was miraculously healthy in time to play in the season opener the following season, but his good fortune would not last. This time it was a torn triceps that knocked him out for the year in Week 1. Mike McGlynn held down the job the rest of the way, but the line never gelled, and he was allowed to walk once it was over.

Now one year after Kelce beat out Jackson for the job, the Eagles are right back in the same situation. The good news is there is a comfort level with Reynolds, who has been trying to make this team since his arrival as an undrafted free agent from BYU in '09. Reynolds was waived initially, but later added to the practice squad that October, and would go on to work with the scout team for the last three years. With his practice squad eligibility used up, Reynolds finally earned a spot on the 53-man roster at this summer's training camp.

At this point, nobody has the answer to whether Reynolds will be the solution or not, but after spending so many years in the organization, the coaching staff should have a pretty good idea about what they're working with, what his strengths and weaknesses are. And if Sunday was any kind of indication, so far, so good.

We can pose other questions about the situation though, like who is the backup to the backup?

In the event Reynolds is not up to the task, the Eagles re-signed Steve Vallos, who spent this summer at Lehigh. A seventh-round pick of the Seahawks in '07, Vallos started eight games in two years on the roster before his release. He moved on to Cleveland for two seasons, where he was used as depth.

Interestingly enough, Jamaal Jackson is still a free agent after a strange offseason. Jackson spent one day with the Giants in May before he left and the club announced his retirement, which he quickly refuted. The Cowboys also kicked his tires, but obviously did not make the move. The Eagles haven't shown any intentions of giving their ex a call either, at least for now.

The other question is how it will impact Michael Vick at the line of scrimmage, but according to Andy Reid, Reynolds made all the line calls when he entered the game. The blocking did not falter with Reynolds and just a short time after Demetress Bell inserted into the lineup, so he seemed to be alright with that aspect of the position as well.

Where the Eagles go from here still remains to be seen though. In the past, losing a center has proven to be a serious hardship, one the offense never truly overcame, and with Jason Peters already missing from the picture, they are beginning to look very thin up front.

But much like this team through the first two weeks, Reynolds has demonstrated resilience and perseverance over four years with this club. It seems all the Eagles can do is hope that continues to translate to the field on game day.

>> Kelce out for season; Eagles re-sign Vallos [CSN]
>> Eagles center Dallas Reynolds ready for new role [Inquirer]

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.