Typically, the leaders on a football team are going to be the playmakers. If not a present playmaker, then it is someone who has a long-standing history of being in the spotlight.
Linebacker Omar Gaither is proving to be an outlier. If it wasn't for the monster block that erased three Giants defenders on DeSean Jackson's game-winning punt return last Sunday, Gaither's impact on this 2010 team would probably still go unnoticed. Just one game earlier, Gaither was inactive for the win in Dallas.
The fifth-year veteran could have languished when he found out early that week that he was not going to be in the lineup for the primetime affair. Instead, Gaither continued to set an example for the younger players on this team to follow.
"Omar has been a real leader for us," special teams coordinator Bobby April said. "There's a real talent in this profession of not going in the tank, of not getting in the dumps. When Omar got sat down and wasn't going to dress and was told that early in the week, he could have went in the tank, but there's a talent to not go into the tank. He was the first guy out on the (practice) field.
"He was a real inspiration to teach these younger guys what it's like to be a pro, what it's like to really be a pro. Come here and do the job you're really blessed to have and quit looking at all of the negative stuff and do something."
Gaither's reasoning for his positive outlook is simple - he believes in this team and what it can accomplish. Gaither has been in the league long enough to fully understand that you have to seize the moment when it arises.
"I don't want to let my circumstances affect my attitude," Gaither said. "Obviously, I want to dress. Obviously, I want to play. I can't let that affect me because it hurts no one but myself. I feel like we have a good thing going here. I want to do everything that I can whether it's help Jamar (Chaney) or block a punt or whatever it may be to help us get to the Super Bowl because no one knows what's going to happen in the future. Opportunities like this don't happen every year."
April is not the only one who believes that Gaither is a leader on this team. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott echoed that sentiment as well.
""To go through what he's gone through, both positive and negative, and still approach the game the way he does says a lot about his character and him being a leader on the team," said McDermott, who acknowledged that Gaither is on the first-team goal line defense. "It says a lot about him, he's one of the leaders on the team who young guys look up to."
One of those young players is Chaney, the rookie seventh-round draft pick who supplanted Gaither as the backup middle linebacker earlier in the season. Now Chaney is the starter with Stewart Bradley sidelined with a dislocated elbow. Chaney had 15 tackles in his first-career start against the Giants last week and credited Gaither as being a tremendous influence on him.
"It shows the kind of person he is to help me like that because he's a very smart player, probably one of the smartest players that we have on defense," Chaney said. "In practice, he asks me questions even when I wasn't getting reps when Stew was out there. He'll ask me, 'What are the checks? What if they do this, what if they do that?' Making sure I know these things just in case I do have to go out there."
In a season where so many unexpected things have taken place, it should come as no surprise that someone who is not in the spotlight has been able to find a way to make a difference.
"I just want to let the coaches, players, everybody know that, 'Hey, whenever you do call on me, I'll be ready to go,'" Gaither said.
And last Sunday, he certainly was.
-- Posted by Chris McPherson, 8:30 p.m., December 23