Mays grew up in Chicago, and the Eagles visit the Bears Sunday night.
If Mays were to get the call, he would be the seventh linebacker the Eagles have tried in the middle since starter Stewart Bradley tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during training camp. He would not be the seventh different linebacker, however. Mays was contender No. 1 but lost the spot during the preseason.
"There are still some decisions to be made, but for right now if I were to be named starter, I'd be very excited," Mays said yesterday. "But not too excited."
Mays got his hopes up last time, didn't perform to the coaches' liking, and took a nosedive down the depth chart. He admitted yesterday to some sulking. In the NFL, though, you're only a play away from playing, or in the Eagles' case, five other middle linebackers away from getting another chance.
The latest stopgap was Chris Gocong. That experiment - moving Gocong to the middle from strong-side with just three days of practice - was deemed a failure. In their 31-23 win last Sunday, the Chargers were able to run through the Eagles' defense, and their backs were able to exploit mismatches catching balls out of the backfield. Gocong confirmed yesterday that he was back at strong-side.
"I gave it my best," Gocong said about playing middle linebacker for the first time since high school. "It was hard. It's tough to set everybody and know all the run gaps and know all the coverage. It's a lot of stuff. It's hard to do in three days."
Gocong was pressed into the middle after weak-side linebacker Akeem Jordan hyperextended his knee two weeks ago against the Cowboys. Will Witherspoon, who brought some stability to middle linebacker for three games, filled in for Jordan, and rookie Moise Fokou stepped in at strong-side.
That one-game experiment is likely in the dustbin - especially with Jordan unlikely to play Sunday night. He hasn't practiced all week. If it's Gocong and presumably Mays in the middle, Witherspoon will stay at weak-side.
Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said before practice that Witherspoon could play some in the middle, and there's still Jeremiah Trotter, whose playing time has decreased with each passing week. The Eagles also only play in their base three-linebacker set about a third of the time.
"We'll have different combinations based on the situation at this point," McDermott said. "We are still trying to work through some of those different combinations with who is available, who's healthy and who's not at this point."
A start for Mays would be the first of his NFL career. His first game as a pro came in Week 4 last season, and coincidentally enough, at Chicago. Born and raised in the Hyde Park section of Chicago, he played on special teams for one kickoff.
"It'll be special going back home and starting against the hometown team," Mays said. "It'll be special having family and friends there, too."
There could be additional significance, considering Mays' up-and-down season. After Omar Gaither - middle linebacker No. 3 - was handed the job before the season, Mays said he let the demotion get the better of him.
"Yeah, I did. I shouldn't have, but I did," he said. "It's just the nature of the game. You just have to adjust, get better and pick up the pieces from where you left off, and that's what I plan on doing."
Mays didn't dress for five of the first six games, but found his way back on the game-day roster and has made an impression on special teams since.
"He's a physical guy, and that's what we need," Gocong said. "We need a guy that's downhill physical, and he was blowing up guys on kickoff."
The knock on the 5-foot-11, 246-pound Mays was that he would get burned covering running backs and tight ends going out for a pass. He said a lot of his problems were mental.
"I was just thinking too much," Mays said. "Now I'm a lot more comfortable. I was comfortable then, but I was thinking too much when I got into the game. Now it's all downhill from here."
Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.