Man in the middle: Gaither for now

Omar Gaither will run with the Eagles starting defense at middle linebacker in practice this week. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)

It's two weeks until opening day and the Eagles remain uncertain about who is going to replace the injured Stewart Bradley as the starting middle linebacker.

Joe Mays had that title for the first three preseason games, but veteran Omar Gaither will be running with the starters this week in practice, according to defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.

"I feel like I'm going home," Gaither said. "I feel like Dorothy."

Gaither probably shouldn't get too excited about clicking his red cleats together because all indications are that he's still in an open competition for the middle linebacker job with Mays. Rookie Moise Fokou got to play one series with the starting defense at middle linebacker in Thursday night's preseason game against Jacksonville, but the competition for the starting job appears to be between Mays and Gaither.

"I didn't click my heels," Gaither said. "I got on my knees and did a lot of praying. It's good, though. I'm looking forward to it. It will be exciting for me."

Gaither has sat out the last two preseason games with a sprained knee and was already running with the first-team nickel defense at middle linebacker. He admitted that when Bradley went down during the first week of training camp that he wondered why he wasn't the starter.

"You try to justify and understand things that happen, but you can't do that," Gaither said. "You have to keep playing. You would think I would be the guy that went in there right away, but 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 and it has been that way since I got here."

Gaither, in fact, has twice lost his starting job. He lost his starting middle linebacker job to Bradley near the end of the 2007 season, but was moved into a starting role at weakside linebacker. He lost that starting job to Akeem Jordan when the Eagles played at Baltimore in Week 12 last season.

McDermott did not commit to Gaither as the starter, but said "you will see him with the ones during practice."

Mays' response to McDermott's decision?

"I'm not going to read into this too much," he said. "It's competition. Everybody is going to get their chance and he's getting his chance right now. That's the way  I see it and all I can do is keep working. I just have to sit back and continue to prepare like I'm going to be the starting middle linebacker and when the day comes, we'll see who they call."