Brian Dawkins

Sixers notes, quotes and tidbits: Embiid, Saric out for preseason opener

Sixers notes, quotes and tidbits: Embiid, Saric out for preseason opener

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers open their preseason Wednesday night against the Grizzlies at the Wells Fargo Center.

As expected, Joel Embiid will not play then or Friday against the Celtics while he recovers from left knee surgery. He is targeting opening night as a return date and has been going through half-court 5-on-5 in practice. 

“We are trying to cater the structure to slowly groom Joel back into the mix and let everybody get used to playing with him and him playing with us,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said Tuesday.

Embiid isn’t the only one sidelined, either.

Dario Saric will be held out Wednesday for rest following a long summer of international competition for Croatia. Saric, who did not practice Tuesday, wants to play. Last season, he was upset he fell one game short of competing in all 82. 

“He hates it. He can’t stand it,” Brown said. “He doesn’t want to let people down. He wants to fight through things. He’s everything that this city would want in their athletes. It’s a fistfight trying to get him to buy in. I’m going to try to do it more with him.”

Amir Johnson left practice Tuesday with a sprained right ankle. The Sixers will evaluate him before the game to determine his availability. He is listed as questionable. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (right knee patellar tendinitis) also will sit out Wednesday and Friday. 

Who will guard Simmons?
The Grizzlies will be the first team to strategize for Ben Simmons. Brown is looking to gain insight into how their opponents defend the 6-foot-10 point guard. Simmons is prepared for different matchups in his first preseason game following a season-long foot injury. 

“It depends what height they are, how big they are,” Simmons said. “If it’s a smaller guy, usually take them down to the post. If it’s a bigger guy, you can usually go by them. We’ll see once I get into the game and see how the flow goes.”

Inspiring NFL visit
The Sixers received a visit from former Eagles great Brian Dawkins. The nine-time Pro Bowler addressed the team before practice Tuesday.

“He’s obviously one of the best to do it,” T.J. McConnell said. “I was kind of in awe to see how humble and how hard he worked. It makes you open your eyes and shows how hard you have to work to be great.” 

Dawkins is the latest on the team’s list of guest speakers. NBA Hall of Famer and former Sixer Charles Barkley attended a team gathering at Brown’s house last week. 

Eagles' rookie cornerback Rasul Douglas ready to fill in for Ronald Darby vs. Chiefs

Eagles' rookie cornerback Rasul Douglas ready to fill in for Ronald Darby vs. Chiefs

Rasul Douglas, standing at his locker Wednesday, was asked how much he's improved since the start of training camp, and he made a sound kind of like, "Pfffshew."

Then he shook his head and said, "No comparison."

Douglas, the Eagles' rookie third-round cornerback from West Virginia, will likely make his NFL debut Sunday when the Eagles face the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

Douglas was inactive for the win over the Redskins, but with Ronald Darby out for at least a month with a dislocated ankle, there's a good chance Douglas will play a significant role this weekend.

"I'm ready," he said. "When I came here, I was all over the place. Wasn’t technique sound. Now I got a lot better. Cory (Undlin, secondary coach) has worked with me, the guys in the room have worked with me, I’ve worked with B-Dawk after practice, worked with a lot of guys after practice, so I’ve just gotten better since I’ve gotten here."

When Darby went down early in the second quarter in Washington, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz moved slot corner Patrick Robinson outside and used a combination of Jaylen Watkins and Corey Graham in the slot.

Schwartz wouldn't reveal his plan for Sunday, but he could use that lineup again, or he could leave Robinson in the slot, where he's grown comfortable since moving inside a few weeks ago and use Douglas outside.

Or Robinson and Jalen Mills could start outside and in nickel, Robinson would move inside and Douglas would move outside.

There are a lot of possibilities and most of them involve some sort of role for Douglas.

"He's an improving player," Schwartz said. "He made a lot of strides from the beginning of training camp until the end of training camp. Like a lot of rookie players, it slowed down at some point for him. Early on he was inundated with all the new things and everything else, and then at the end, it was able to go a little bit slower for him. 

"Very competitive. You saw that in the preseason games. He's long, he can get his hands on the football and he's tough. He'll tackle. I thought he had a very good training camp after a slow start."

You could see Douglas get better with each passing week. But his projected role definitely took a hit when the Eagles went out and acquired Darby in the Jordan Matthews trade on Aug. 11.

He said Brian Dawkins, who is in the Eagles' scouting department, had some valuable advice for him.

"Just picking his brain is great," he said. "Pro Bowl guy, one of the best safeties to ever play the game. 

"He told me always understand the 'why.' 'Why does Schwartz call this defense or why are you playing outside leverage and not inside leverage,' stuff like that."

Douglas also has the luxury of a Pro Bowler with a Super Bowl ring in the meeting room every day in Malcolm Jenkins.

"Malc helped me learn that when the offensive guys are coming out of the huddle, see route concepts or what they might run or who’s coming out to your side and what route does he always run and things like that," he said.

"So when I get into my stance, I have a glimpse of what’s going on or what’s about to happen."

Douglas' career arc has paralleled Mills' in a lot of ways. Mills did play last year in the opener, but only 12 snaps on defense. But he went on to average 43 snaps after that, and by the end of the year, was a pretty solid cornerback.

Mills is now a starter and has been impressed with Douglas's improvement.

“He’s a lot better," he said. "Coming to OTAs, you see him kind of confused, not really sure of himself. Then, in camp, you see him breaking up passes. Even in preseason, he could have had two pick-sixes. You just see him developing and growing. 

"Me, being in that same spot last year, I kind of smile in the background and tell him good job here and there, but he’s grown, for sure. …

"He's 6-2, big aggressive guy, like to make plays on the ball. He did that at West Virginia and he’s doing it here. He’ll be ready if he gets a chance to go out there."

And if he gets beat? Like every young cornerback gets beat at some point?

“Just tell him you’ve got to trust yourself, regardless," Mills said. "Those guys get paid to catch the ball. If they catch the ball, good one. One for the bad guys. 

"But you’ve got to pick yourself up and go play the next play."

Rob's Rants: Brian Dawkins, Rhys Hoskins and Ozark

Rob's Rants: Brian Dawkins, Rhys Hoskins and Ozark

Here's the latest edition of Rob's Rants in which CSNPhilly's Rob Ellis does just that about the hottest topics in Philly sports.

Coach Dawk
When Brian Dawkins rejoined the Eagles organization as a football operations executive prior to last season, his role appeared to be that of a scout and/or conduit to the younger players to help teach them the ropes of the NFL. But something that’s become apparent at this year’s training camp is this: Dawkins has been doing some coaching and on-field instruction as well. Two players in particular he has been working with this summer are rookie corner Rasul Douglas and second-year man C.J. Smith. 

What better resource to have as an added voice for a young player than Dawkins? He’s played the game at the highest level. He’s not too far removed from the game, having retired in 2011, that these guys haven’t seen him play or don’t remember him. And no player epitomizes or understands this city better than Dawk — and what it takes to succeed here. Dawkins had incredible talent but was driven by an insatiable work ethic. Here’s hoping the young Birds defensive backs have half his talent and all his drive. 

16 > 18
I’ve never been a proponent of expanding the NFL regular season schedule to 18 games. I fully understand how brutal four preseason games are and how bad it stinks for fans to have to pay for these so-called exhibitions. 

The problem is, the NFL is a league of attrition. A major injury can derail a team's season. Accordingly, the ones in the preseason play sparingly. Yes there’s injury risk, but it is on a much smaller scale. Add in two more regular season games, and you’re all in – and therefore the injury risk increases dramatically. Not to mention the long-term, cumulative effect increased blows to the head could have on these players at the end of their careers. 

That said, the preseason is useful evaluation tool to fill out the bottom of a roster. While camp and OTAs are important in gauging talent, coaches like to see these guys in game conditions. Reducing it to two games would make it more difficult to for the under-drafted or undrafted to carve out a roster spot.

Out in left field
Why did it take until Aug. 7 for the Phillies organization to try Rhys Hoskins in left field? This could be an extremely short-lived experiment if Hoskins is a butcher out there, but shouldn’t the club have tried this a little earlier in the year? 

As things look now, the big league club could have the makings of three starters in Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams.  And I realize Altherr's trip to the disabled list may have changed things. But while the club was slogging through Michael Saunders and Cameron Perkins and Ty Kelly in the outfield earlier this year, Hoskins' call-up could have been expedited instead of being blocked by Tommy Joseph at first if they had tried this in May or June.   

"Couple of weeks ago, they said, 'Hey, go run around the outfield a little bit during BP,'" Hoskins said pregame Monday in an interview with CSNPhilly's Marshall Harris. "It was good, get my conditioning up, keep it up towards the end of the year here. Then they told me, 'Hey, start taking it a little bit more serious, getting reads off the bat.' They talked to me about it a little bit, I felt comfortable out there and here we are tonight."

Matt Klentak has been steadfast in saying that Hoskins needed nearly an entire season of Triple A at-bats, and he’s put up big time offensive numbers. But if Hoskins had showed some promise early in the outfield at that level, is there a chance we could have seen him sooner in South Philly? The Phils tried to move Joseph at the trade deadline to no avail. His offensive power numbers are decent, but his other metrics are poor. If Joseph had been moved, this conversation is moot and Hoskins is playing first. But it seems strange to do this now. 

Ozark
Let me start by saying, I have never seen a full episode of Game of Thrones. Don’t @ me. I realize I am in the minority. My colleagues in the newsroom here at CSN, when not watching or talking Philadelphia sports, are discussing Thrones. The only way I can sum it up is, it’s not my cup of tea. I will however give a ringing endorsement to Ozark on Netflix. I’ve always been a big Jason Bateman fan, and he is excellent both as the lead and directing several episodes. It’s dark and twisted, but the story arc is intense and the acting is phenomenal.