Linebacker Joe Mays' world has undergone a complete 180 degrees since the start of training camp. Expected to compete for the backup middle linebacker job and an integral role on special teams, Mays ascended to the starting middle linebacker spot when Stewart Bradley tore the ACL in his knee back on August 2. Now that the preseason is almost over, has Mays done enough to win the starting job for the regular season?
On the stat sheet, Mays has made five tackles and notched a quarterback hit. Off the stat sheet, he's played physical and aggressive, downhill football. The run defense has been quite good with Mays in there. That's not to say he's been perfect, of course. In pass coverage, the area where he had the most questions to answer, he is getting acclimated to the variety of looks that will be thrown at him during the season. It is going to be a learning process, much like the one Bradley went through last season. Mays didn't play a snap on defense last year as a rookie.
Mays will be the first person to tell you that he is still a work in progress.
"I expect better things from myself and my coaches; they expect good things from me too," Mays said. "I just have to go out there and play."
However, Moise Fokou saw some first-team reps at middle linebacker against Jacksonville. Matt Wilhelm has experience as a starter in the middle, although in a 3-4 scheme. Head coach Andy Reid has not decided whether Mays will start in the preseason finale against the Jets. The preseason finale is usually a night off for the entrenched starters. In addition, Reid is not sure if Fokou or Wilhelm will play middle linebacker at all on Thursday.
""I haven't put a final thing on that," Reid said. "There's a chance that they do, but I haven't finalized that yet.""
Same goes for Omar Gaither, who was the starting middle linebacker for the Eagles in 2007. Gaither has been sidelined by a knee sprain.
""I'm going to evaluate Omar this week and just see how he's doing," Reid said. "I know Omar can play the MIKE linebacker position. I'm not worried about that. I just want to make sure that he's confident in his leg and that it continues to progress here. It held up great last week. I just want to see how it does this week."
Mays knows that Thursday will be important for him if he's called in to play. But he knows that he has to concentrate on impressing his teammates and coaches, not fans or his critics.
"If it's not my coaches or my teammates, I don't really pay attention to it," Mays said when asked how he deals with outside criticism. "Yeah definitely (there's always something to prove), to the people in this locker room. But when it comes to people outside that don't really know what's going on, I don't really pay attention to it."
-- Posted by Chris McPherson, 2:27 p.m., August 29