It used to be that Omar Gaither didn't necessarily embrace his title as "Mr. Versatility."

For the Eagles linebacker, his flexibility became an impediment to his starting. Of course, it also made him indispensable.

"Omar knows everything," Eagles coach Andy Reid said last week.

"It's probably the reason why I've made the team since I've been here," said Gaither, who is entering his fifth season in Philadelphia. "Would you rather be a master of one or a jack of all trades?"

Gaither's preference has always been to master one position - the middle linebacker spot he once owned, only to lose it to Stewart Bradley. But after an off-season in which the Eagles added four faces at linebacker - replenishing a unit that was taxed last season - the fifth-year "Jack" is embracing all his trades.

"As I've said in the past, it's kind of good and bad to do a lot of things," said Gaither, who is also trying to bounce back from a season-ending Lisfranc foot sprain. "But in this instance, I think it's real good that I can do inside and outside [linebacker] because who knows when a position is going to open up."

The middle linebacker position creaked open a tiny bit last week when Bradley strained his left calf. Gaither filled in, but that door will close once the injury heals. Bradley may be coming back from knee surgery, but his hold on the position is as tight as any on defense.

Gaither's best shot at starting may be at weakside linebacker. But Ernie Sims was awarded the job at minicamp just a few weeks after the Eagles acquired him from Detroit, and he has done little to lose it. As Gaither said, Sims "is not chopped liver."

Strong-side linebacker is the position most up for grabs, but it's the spot at which Gaither has the least experience. Still, as Reid likes to say, "every job is open."

"It's [nonsense] in some sense, but I really feel that way," Gaither said about Reid's credo. "Stew is coming off an injury. We don't have any set Pro Bowl guy who's been here and redone his contract at linebacker. So, yeah, I feel like everything is open."

The real competition, however, may be for the backup spots. There are eight players who play linebacker - 10 if you include hybrid defensive ends Ricky Sapp and Alex Hall. Reid said Friday that the Eagles would likely carry six linebackers on their 53-man roster.

That could mean the end for veterans such as Joe Mays, Akeem Jordan or Gaither. Or it could mean rookies such as Keenan Clayton and Jamar Chaney - selected in the fourth and seventh rounds, respectively - don't make the cut.

"We can't keep them all," Reid said.

What has become abundantly clear during Sean McDermott's short tenure as defensive coordinator is that if you're a backup and you can't wear more than one hat, you're not going to fit in.

Mays is mainly a middle linebacker, but he became a valuable contributor on special teams last season. Jordan has taken repetitions at all three linebacker spots this spring. Moise Fokou is ideally suited to the strong-side, where he's starting now, but is also a willing special-teamer.

And Gaither, as Reid said, knows everything.

"Having that flexibility is tremendous, and Omar and Akeem - to name a few - give us that flexibility," McDermott said. They're "guys that have played in this league and done well."

But not well enough that their jobs are secure. Clayton is currently listed as the backup at strong-side linebacker, while Chaney runs with the third team at the weakside position. But each is as versatile as the veterans, the coaches contend, and capable of jumping from one position to another.

Last season, McDermott employed 11 alignments at starting linebacker. During games, he was an alchemist, mixing and matching his pieces against opposing offenses. Most of changes were born of necessity, however, because of a host of injuries, starting with Bradley's torn anterior cruciate ligament in training camp.

Gaither, of course, took over and did his usual yeoman's work. But he suffered a foot injury in Game 5 against the Raiders, and the Eagles never found a suitable replacement.

"I've never had an injury. I've never missed a single game in my life," Gaither said. "So I found out a lot about myself."

He'll find out more in the coming months.