Joe Mays looks likely for Bradley's spot
BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Coming into the Eagles' training camp, there weren't many open jobs on defense. Sure, the company line said that the strong safety and right cornerback spots were up for grabs. But it would take a rather unlikely upset for Sean Jones and Ellis Hobbs to supplant Quintin Demps and Sheldon Brown at their respective positions.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Coming into the Eagles' training camp, there weren't many open jobs on defense.
Sure, the company line said that the strong safety and right cornerback spots were up for grabs. But it would take a rather unlikely upset for Sean Jones and Ellis Hobbs to supplant Quintin Demps and Sheldon Brown at their respective positions.
But after yesterday's news that middle linebacker Stewart Bradley was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, the Eagles now have themselves an old-fashioned shoot-out for the centerpiece of a defense.
The contenders are Joe Mays and Omar Gaither. Both have their pluses and minuses. Mays, a second-year pro out of Division I-AA North Dakota State, is raw but seemingly the type of reserve who would explode if given the chance. Gaither is a veteran who once started almost an entire season in the middle. But he was demoted and had lost the sort of buzz reserved for up-and-comers like Bradley.
As of yesterday, Mays had the lead, mostly because he was Bradley's backup and Gaither was supposed to be battling with Akeem Jordan at weakside linebacker. Mays ran with the first team on Sunday night after Bradley injured his knee at Lincoln Financial Field, and again yesterday. Gaither took over on some of the nickel situations.
"Joe's done a good job," coach Andy Reid said. "He did a good job [Sunday]. . . . He had a good camp when he came in here last year. So, we'll just see how he progresses here throughout the preseason."
Mays was a bit of a training-camp sensation last year.
"That's the only reason why Joe made the team last year," cornerback Brown said. ". . . Last year, he didn't know if he was going left or right, but he was going to be at the ball. He didn't know if he had the A, B, C. . . . He probably thought he had the F gap, which doesn't exist."
That became readily apparent during the preseason, and Mays played only twice during the regular season without registering a tackle. The 5-foot-11 246-pounder said he is ready now.
"Last year I was just a pup coming in trying to learn," he said. "Now I think I tried to learn the more advanced things like what everybody else is doing out there on the field. I know my job, but it's more important that I know everybody else's job."
Still, he admitted, when he walked to the practice field yesterday after learning of Bradley's injury, there were some first-time jitters.
"I would say there were a couple of butterflies," Mays said. "In a situation like this, you always want to earn your job. You never want to have it given to you."
Gaither, meanwhile, has only two seasons on his competition but has a lot more experience than Mays. It would be fair to typecast him as the veteran looking to regain his spot in the rotation.
"I feel like I'm the best man for any job - it doesn't matter what position," Gaither said. "I've always said from Day One that I didn't want to move in the first place, that I liked [middle linebacker] better. That's no secret."
By Week 11 of his rookie season, the Tennessee product had found the starting rotation on the weak side. The next year, he bumped off Jeremiah Trotter in the middle and started the first 14 games. However, when Takeo Spikes went down, Gaither slid back to the weak side and Bradley took over in the middle. Last season, Gaither stayed outside - unhappily - and was eventually replaced by Jordan in Week 12.
"I feel like [middle linebacker] is more of a quarterback, and that's what I feel like I am," Gaither said. "I like to run the defense, and the [middle linebacker] gets to do that. You're in the middle of everything. You stay on the field. You don't come off the field on third down."
That may have been so with Bradley, who played on every down. But there's the possibility that Mays, who has to show he can cover passes, would vacate on third down for the more nimble Gaither (6-2, 235 pounds).
If they were to split duties, there could be some confusion as to who would wear the helmet equipped with a radio to receive play calls, which the NFL allows just one defensive starter to don. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said that Mays would, for the time being, wear the radio helmet, as he did Sunday night after Bradley limped off the field.