Omar Gaither was the starting middle linebacker in 2007. It was assumed that when Stewart Bradley tore his ACL on August 2 that Gaither would slide back into the lineup, especially since he wasn't a starter at either of the other two linebacker positions.
However, the coaches gave Joe Mays the chance to work with the first-team defense and he's started all three preseason games. Rookie seventh-round draft pick Moise Fokou saw some reps with the first-team at middle linebacker last Thursday against Jacksonville. Now, Gaither will get a chance to work back in.
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott made the announcement Sunday that Gaither will work in the base 4-3 as the first-team middle linebacker this week in practice. As to who will start Thursday in the preseason finale against the Jets, no determination has been made. In fact, with two weeks to go before the start of the regular season, McDermott declared that the middle linebacker job is an open competition.
"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 and then from a health standpoint that he has confidence in his leg," McDermott said.
Gaither suffered a knee sprain in practice and has missed the last two preseason games. Even though Gaither was productive as the middle linebacker in 2007, he knows full well that jobs must be earned.
"You would think that I would be the guy that would go in there right away," Gaither said. "Joe played well last year and they felt like he could go in there and do some things. You always have to earn stuff around here. It's been that way since I got here. It's nothing new for me."
Even though there's been no official announcement as to who will be the starter come opening day, Gaither indicated he knows what will happen.
"I already know how it's going to happen," Gaither said. "You guys will have to wait and see, but I already know."
In 2007, Gaither led the team with 170 tackles - the third-most by an Eagle since 1999. He also had 14 QB hurries and 14 pass knockdowns.
The biggest difference between then and now, Gaither said, is his knowledge of the defense.
"I felt like I knew the defense then, but I know it better now," Gaither said. "I know the defense that much more better. I'm just more mature."
McDermott said that he is looking for "consistency" from the person who will start in the middle. McDermott is also not disappointed that no one has stood out and seized the job. The fact that Gaither is being given the chance to run the defense in practice doesn't mean Mays is out of the picture either.
"As a young player, Joe has a very bright future," McDermott said. "He continues to develop and consistency would be the biggest thing on every down."