Yay! Danny Watkins Is Going to Play!

Yay! Danny Watkins Is Going to Play!

After being made inactive for three of the season's first four weeks, the Eagles' first round pick will finally be on the field this Sunday according to reports. Danny Watkins, who was touted by some draft analysts as the most NFL-ready lineman in this year's draft, will finally start at right guard against the Buffalo Bills. He replaces Kyle DeVan, who the team claimed off waivers shortly after cut-down day.

Watkins struggled during the preseason, and didn't look quite as prepared as we were promised, so the Eagles added DeVan as an insurance policy on September 4. Formerly a member of the Indianapolis Colts, offensive line coach Howard Mudd was familiar with the Oregon State product, who within days he was announced as the opening day starter.

Not surprisingly, DeVan has been the weak link in the offensive line. While he's not been completely ineffective either, he's part of the problem with an interior that hasn't been able to get any push at the goal line. In short, DeVan is a replacement level player who can generally give the quarterback a few seconds in pass protection, but isn't overwhelming anybody on the other side.

Which is why it's go-time for Watkins. We have no way of knowing if the big Canadian is ready or not, but the Eagles are 1-3, and in no position to wait around for him to develop. When he was selected number 23 overall in April, it was assumed the 26 year old would start immediately. In fact, whether he was a good choice or not was largely dependent on him having a positive impact right away.

Much has been made about this year's draft class not contributing so far, with Watkins, Jaiquawn Jarrett, and Curtis Marsh -- their first three picks in April -- all spending the first month inactive for the most part. You can give Jarrett and Marsh somewhat of a pass due to the lockout and some additional circumstances, but Watkins was sold to us like a used car that could be driven right off the lot.

While it obviously wouldn't be wise to label him a bust because he missed four games, Watkins needs to get in there and beef up the interior. The Eagles' struggles in the red zone have been crushing, particularly in their last two defeats, and you can't help but wonder if maybe they would have punched one or two more in behind big number 63 had he been ready.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for the Birds, and they're still trying to find their best 11 on both sides of the ball.

>> Eagles to start first-round pick Watkins [Wilmington News Journal]

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).