Gaither takes over for Mays at MLB
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles are changing their starting middle linebacker two weeks before the start of the regular season.
"I'm going home," Gaither said Sunday. "I feel like Dorothy. I didn't click my heels, but I got down on my knees and prayed a lot."
Gaither had been bothered by a sore knee throughout training camp, but returned to practice on a limited basis last week and was out with the starting unit at practice Sunday. He will remain in that role leading up to the season opener Sept. 13 at Carolina.
"I'm here to stay," he said. "I'm not coming out this time."
After Bradley's injury, the Eagles made Mays the starter. Mays was a sixth-round pick out of North Dakota State last year. Last week, rookie seventh-round pick Moise Fokou started to get more reps.
Now, it's back to Gaither.
"It's a work in progress," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "There is competition at that position. We're just looking for consistency out of whoever is in the middle in order to execute the defense.
"I think any time you are an aggressive defense you have to be able to react to play-action pass. My biggest thing is that I want to see Omar come out and handle the reins of the defense in terms of the leadership, make the huddle call, get us lined up, quarterback the defense. Then, from a health standpoint, he has to have confidence in his leg."
Gaither feels the knee is fine.
"It's good. It's not a problem at all," he said.
Gaither started the final five games of his rookie season in 2006 and both of the team's playoff games on the weak side when he replaced an ineffective Matt McCoy. In those five games he recorded a sack and an interception. He had 12 tackles in the two postseason games.
The following season he moved to the middle and started all 16 games.
Last year the Eagles moved Bradley to the middle and put Gaither back outside where he started the first 10 games of the season before being replaced by Akeem Jordan.
"I'm excited to be back out there," Gaither said. "When Stew got hurt, you would have thought I would be the guy. But that's not how it was. Joe played well last year and he got the opportunity. That's the way it's always been for me. I've always had to earn everything I've gotten."
Two weeks before the opener, he's earned a shot again. This time, he says, it will be different.
"I'm more experienced, more mature," Gaither said. "I know the defense better. I knew it before, but I know it even better now. I know how this is all going to shake out. I can't tell you, but I know."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press