New middle linebacker Will Witherspoon admitted at his locker after practice on Thursday that his head was spinning trying to digest a new defensive scheme in just days before a pivotal Monday night showdown between the Eagles and the Redskins, while his teammates have had the entire off-season to do so.
Witherspoon was acquired by the Eagles just prior to the trade deadline from the Rams for wide receiver Brandon Gibson and a 2010 fifth-round draft pick. Witherspoon takes the spot of Omar Gaither, who suffered a Lis Franc injury against the Raiders and is most likely done for the season, according to head coach Andy Reid.
In his first practice with his new team, Witherspoon shared the first-team middle linebacker reps with Jeremiah Trotter. He also worked in the nickel package as well. Witherspoon did not make the defensive calls, a job that is usually given to the middle linebacker. Strong safety Quintin Mikell has worn the defensive headset the past two games since Trotter and Gaither rotated in and out of the lineup. Witherspoon said it was "to be determined" whether he would wear the headset on Monday night in his Eagles debut. Despite suffering a tailbone injury in his final game with the Rams last week, Witherspoon had full participation in Thursday's practice and explained that the injury was just a bruise.
Witherspoon said that he was at the NovaCare Complex until about 10 o'clock Wednesday night. While Sean McDermott's scheme is similar to Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo's, the two are disciples of the late Jim Johnson, there are differences in terminology and concepts, according to Witherspoon. The eighth-year veteran wants to make sure that he does not commit any costly mental errors against the Redskins.
"I have a lot to digest in the next couple of days. It's my first priority. I don't want to be a hindrance to any of the guys out there," Witherspoon said. "I don't want to hold us down from anything. I know the responsibilities I have and I know what I have to do. These guys are really working to make sure I'm holding not just my share, but we're doing it all together."
One thing that is helping Witherspoon in his preparation is the fact that he played the Redskins back in Week 2. The Rams lost just 9-7 in its closest game of the season. Witherspoon had 10 total tackles as he started at weakside linebacker. Witherspoon said that his teammates have a "good grasp" of what he already knew about Washington. One difference from his first meeting with the Rams will be the help he'll provide in covering tight end Chris Cooley. Witherspoon said that he was not responsible for covering him in that Week 2 meeting, but that he and his new teammates are prepared for the challenge.
"There's going to be a lot of responsibility on the backers. We're going to hold up our end of the bargain," Witherspoon said. "I don't think these guys have been getting the credit that's due to them when it comes to things like that."
Weighing in at around 240 pounds, Witherspoon wants to add about five pounds for the game this week. He explained that when he joined the NFL as a third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2002 he weighed around 225 pounds. Witherspoon took over the middle linebacker job when starter Dan Morgan got injured. Of course, no one believed a 225-pound linebacker could hold up under the rigors of playing in the middle.
"I think my play spoke for itself. I've never really worried about how much I weighed," Witherspoon said.
Witherspoon signed with the Rams as a big-ticket free agent in 2006. As the franchise has struggled, Witherspoon's name has been forgotten in the discussion of the league's top outside linebackers. However, at 29 years old, he believes that he's still very much the same player he was when he signed the deal.
"I don't think I have anything that's really holding me back," Witherspoon said. "It's not like I'm falling down or anything. I think I'm still at the top of my game."
-- Posted by Chris McPherson, 4:21 p.m., October 22