Omar Gaither will be starting at middle linebacker on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, just a few miles from where he grew up in West Charlotte.
“We’ll pass my house coming in from the airport,” Gaither predicted.
He said he is looking for extra tickets for family and friends, in his first hometown appearance since high school.
Gaither is also returning to his home at middle linebacker. He started there all of 2007 before Stewart Bradley displaced him to the weak side last season.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Gaither. “I never wanted to leave (the middle) in the first place.”
Gaither, who says his legs are healed and fresh, allowed that he might be starting as much because of his experience and Joe Mays’ mistakes and inexperience than because Gaither outplayed Mays this summer.
Regardless, Gaither vowed, “I’m going to do whatever it takes to remain here.”
Bradley's injury and the uncertainty at linebacker is among the bigger concerns about the Eagles.
The Daily News asked two scouts for their position-by-position breakdown of the Eagles. You can read the full version in Thursday's special 24-page section, but here are the scouts on the linebacker situation:
Scout 1: “Bradley was the one special guy on this unit and he’s out for the year. [Akeem] Jordan and [Chris] Gocong are functional guys, but that’s it. We’ve got red grades on Jordan. Gocong has developed into a decent run defender, but he still struggles in coverage. The biggest problem here is going to be finding a replacement for Bradley. Gaither was a pretty good player at Tennessee, but I don’t know if he’s big enough to hold up inside for 16 games. The first game is going to tell a lot about him because of [the Panthers’] two running backs and the play-action they’re going to throw at the Eagles.”
Scout 2: “Losing Bradley was costly. He was a really good player who could do a lot of different things. Now, you’ve kind of got to mix and match with Gaither and Mays. It’s going to be very important for Gocong and Jordan to play well. I like Gocong. He’s been getting better every year. I expect him to take even another step this year. Gaither has some experience and is a smart player. But he’s not very big or physical. If linemen can get to him, he’s going to have problems. Mays is a contact player. He’s physical. He’s a little bit undersized, but he brings some things to the table. It’s not the same as having Bradley in there, though, that’s for sure.”
In Carolina, running back Jonathan Stewart and linebacker Jon Beason returned to the field for the first time in 29 and 19 days, respectively. Both are expected to play Sunday.
“They both looked really good,” coach John Fox told the Charlotte Observer. “I thought that both had a good day’s work.”
According to Charles Chandler from the Observer, Stewart hadn’t practice since Aug.11 and sat out all four exhibitions in order to give his sore Achilles the rest it needed to heal. He Stewart said he didn’t experience pain in his Achilles during Wednesday’s practice.
“We just didn’t want it to be a month (without Stewart) during the regular season,” said Fox. “The good news is it was a month during the preseason. That was the plan.”
Beason came back faster than many expected after suffering a sprained MCL in his left knee during the Panthers’ Aug.22 exhibiton at Miami.
In addition to working out with trainers during the day at Bank of American Stadium, he used a sophisticated electrical stimulation device to hasten his healing. He said he continues to wear the device about 10 hours a day when he’s home, including while sleeping.
Beason was injured 22 days before the regular season was scheduled to start, which put his status for the Eagles’ game in doubt because it sometimes takes longer than that to recover from an MCL sprain.
“I try to think of myself kind of bionic a little bit, that I heal fast,” said Beason. “It was an opportunity to prove everybody wrong, even the docs.”
He Beason wore a brace on his left knee in practice, which he called “annoying,” but otherwise said he was able to practice without hindrance or discomfort.
“I just tried not to think about it,” said Beason. “If you think about it, then you overcompensate.
“I tried not to go out there and be ginger with it (and to) just go out there and play hard and really see where it is so I can kind of gauge myself. If it didn’t feel good today, I could kind of back off tomorrow, but it felt great.”
To read our earlier post with Brian Westbrook, click here.