Trotter's release bittersweet for Gaither

Posted: August 22, 2007

ON MONDAY, Omar Gaither practiced with the first-team defense.

Yesterday, Gaither became a member of the first-team defense.

In the spin-cycle NFL, one man's sorrow is another man's job opening and yesterday, minutes after a tearful Jeremiah Trotter ended his final media session with the Eagles, Gaither began his first.

Far from unfeeling, Gaither waffled between understandable excitement for himself and genuine sadness for a guy he said was like a big brother to him. Trotter actually called Gaither late Monday to break the news, wishing his replacement well and reminding him to enjoy every moment, that the adage is true and NFL truly can stand for Not For Long.

"I'm thankful that Trot gave me the heads up," Gaither said. "He told me to expect all of this, so it wouldn't overwhelm me. It's a situation where you have to sit back, take a deep breath and say to yourself, this is what you've been waiting for your whole life."

Clearly the Eagles believe that Gaither is ready for his close-up. A fifth-round pick out of Tennessee, he was inserted into the mix last year at weakside linebacker, eventually earning the starting nod after Matt McCoy went out with a shoulder injury and keeping the job even after McCoy returned.

Now Gaither, who played strongside in college, assumes his third linebacker position in as many years, which frankly is just the beginning of what is at best a curious linebacker situation at the NovaCare Complex.

Gaither has five starts, two more in the playoffs, all at weakside. Strongside backer Chris Gocong has none, sidelined all of last season by injury and Takeo Spikes, the lone veteran, is on the weakside for the first time, not to mention in an entirely new defense.

There's always a chance that the Eagles move Spikes to middle linebacker, but aside from Spikes saying he expected defensive coordinator Jim Johnson to "definitely move me around," there was no indication that would happen.

More likely, rookie Stewart Bradley will be seeing more playing time. The speedy and bulky Nebraska product has impressed the Eagles so much that he has gotten reps at both strongside and middle linebacker since training camp.

"Mainly, it affects me at MIKE, but I try not to look at it that way," Bradley said. "You don't want to prosper at another man's expense, but it definitely affects you. In a way it's a reality check to life in the NFL, but you're not necessarily in a panic mode."

For now, the job of replacing Trotter comes down to two people. In the meeting rooms, it will be up to Spikes to become the man of the linebacker house. Spikes admits he was looking forward to splitting the duties with Trotter, that part of the allure of the trade from Buffalo was playing alongside Trotter and being in the locker room alongside him.

But in his 10th year in the league, his own trade away from Buffalo still fresh in his mind, Spikes is savvy enough to know that the best-laid plans of linebackers are often scuttled by the front office.

"The biggest challenge for us in the locker room is to be consistent," Spikes said. "Yeah, we want to make big plays and every play we're supposed to make. But it's the little things we need to do from Monday all the way to Saturday, meeting before practice, meeting after practice, there's no such thing as a stupid question. We have to lay it all on the line.

"My position, I have to be what I was once before. I've been in this situation before. I need to be vocal, just tell the guys this is what needs to be done and not to do too much."

On the field, the job falls to Gaither. Smaller than Trotter (though up to 243 pounds, he said), he also is quicker and, naturally, younger.

"I told him, I've held down the middle for a number of years, now it's your turn," Trotter said. "Just play up to the best of your abilities, continue to work hard, trust God and listen to your veterans, and you'll be fine."

Trotter's words of wisdom were echoed by his now former teammates. They all cautioned their new starting middle linebacker to avoid the pitfall of becoming someone he is not.

"Omar is not Trot. Let's get that straight," Brian Dawkins said. "Omar brings his own talents to the table and he's going to do what he does best. Trot's going to whup that center and that guard in front of him. He's a 260-pound guy that can run. Not everybody is like that. Omar is going to bring different things. He's a smart guy, very vocal and he can get to the passer.

"He doesn't have to do too much. We have too much talent around him to do that. He just has to do his job."

In the end, winning the job might be the easiest part. Andy Reid and Co. already have Gaither's back on that one.

Winning over the fans? That will be more difficult. Trotter was perhaps more universally adored in this city than any other player on the current roster.

Yes, even including No. 5.

Trotter's relationship was never that complicated.

He played hard, chopped his wood and was always sincere when he said he bled Eagles green. Even after he left for a 2-year hiatus in Washington, in as ugly a divorce as a player has had with the current regime, Eagles fans welcomed him back like the prodigal son.

"I know a lot of fans don't want to see Trot go, and I understand that," Gaither said. "But if you just give me a chance, I won't let you down." *

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