This is probably the most difficult fight to call. Coming off a fine if unspectacular campaign as the Eagles middle linebacker, Omar Gaither was expected to thrive upon moving back outside last year. 11 weeks later, Akeem Jordan stepped in and for whatever reason the defense improved, though it didn't appear to have much to do with that particular change.
What remains is a jumble of relative unknowns, including one darkhorse candidate, competing for a starting position on one of the league's best defenses.
Gaither's benching seemingly came from nowhere, but the game charters at Football Outsiders cited his struggles defending the screen pass as a primary reason for his demotion. What it really meant is he is merely an average football player, and not the prospect we all hoped when he broke into the lineup toward the end of '06. Still solid, and it would not be a disappointment to see him take the field on opening day... just not great.
As an aside, the idea a breakdown in contract negotiations was the root of Gaither's benching is absurd. Even if it were true he refused a long term deal, the simple fact is if he were such a tremendous player, he would be on the field. What exactly are his defining moments?
Enter Jordan, a special teamer who impressed the coaching staff enough for Dave Spadaro to drop his name on more than a few occasions. There aren't many conclusions to draw from the undrafted backer's first nine starts, except that he was another unexceptional piece of the puzzle. Things ran more smoothly once the defense made the switch, though Jordan has done little to distinguish himself beyond serviceable so far.
The inclusion of Joe Mays may be in part due to author's bias, but apparently it is actually an idea the coaches are willing to consider. Regular readers might recall last preseason when we droned on about a rookie linebacker who disrupted one second-string offense after another. With Stewart Bradley firmly entrenched in the middle, it was difficult to see where Mays fit in, at least until he took some snaps at weakside this spring. He doesn't have prototypical size, and that alone makes him a longshot, but these coaches know a football player when they see one.
In all likelihood, it will come down to either Gaither and Jordan. Basically it's anybody's guess, and in those cases a betting man sides with the incumbent. The average fan probably doesn't have enough information to determine the upside of an Akeem Jordan, but we've seen enough Omar Gaither to know there's nothing special there either. We'll continue keeping a close eye on the progression of Joe Mays throughout the process.