August 24, 2007

Johnson Backs Gaither

THE CLEAR message from Jim Johnson yesterday was that he is enthusiastic about having Omar Gaither as his starting middle linebacker.

Maybe it was a predictable message - you'd hardly expect the Eagles to release a player like Jeremiah Trotter without the defensive coordinator being on board with the decision - but it was revealing, nonetheless. As Trotter himself noted in his extraordinary farewell address, this wasn't something Andy Reid just woke up and decided to do one cloudy morning.

In fact, when Trotter said he knew Reid didn't want to release him, he might have been giving a bit of insight behind the scenes, over the 6 months or so since the coaching staff finished its review of 2006 game tape. Johnson wasn't going to say anything that would slight Trotter yesterday, but when he said such things as "[Gaither] is a playmaker, and we wanted to get him on the field; it's as simple as that," you can rest assured that it wasn't Reid, the head coach with the offensive background, who was pushing to get Gaither on the field.

The picture that has emerged over the past few days is of two things happening to produce Tuesday's surprise Trotter departure, one event leading directly to the other. Johnson decided, over the weekend, after watching film of the Carolina game, to make Gaither the starter. Gaither practiced in that role Monday, with Trotter as the backup.

Once that happened, Reid made the decision that it would be better to cut the cord cleanly than to try to fit Trotter's dominant, oversized personality into a reserve role, after four Pro Bowl invitations. Then Reid held his meeting with Trotter, and what occurred after that, everybody in Eagles Nation knows by now.

There are things we still don't know. If Trotter had said he really wanted to hang on as a backup, would Reid have allowed that? Were other players consulted, before the final decision was made? Is this just another minor bump in the road, like the departures of prominent leaders in the past (Troy Vincent, Duce Staley etc.), or have Johnson and Reid seriously overestimated the remaining defensive leadership and linebacking talent?

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