PHILADELPHIA (AP) -Trot's spot has been filled.
The middle linebacker position belongs to Omar Gaither now, earlier than expected after the surprising release of Jeremiah Trotter. One practice, Gaither worked with the first team defense; the next one, he was a full-fledged member prepping for a preseason start.
The second-year pro isn't exactly a novice - he started seven games last year at weakside linebacker - but taking over for a locker-room leader, fan favorite and four-time Pro Bowl selection like Trotter comes with its own set of unique expectations.
``On the field isn't a big deal,'' Gaither said Wednesday, a crush of reporters in front of his locker. ``It's all the off-field stuff. I knew it was big. I didn't really realize it. I guess it comes with the territory.''
Gaither spoke four spots down from the now-vacant locker of Trotter, the voice and emotional leader of the defense, always counted on to fire up - or pick up - his teammates. He was always the player to whom reporters went first to hear his open and honest answers on the state of the defense.
Eventually, that sometimes overrated ``rah-rah'' aspect of the game all can be replaced. Takeo Spikes, a two-time Pro Bowl selection acquired from Buffalo to play the weakside spot, already has shown an interest in taking over as a locker room leader.
What takes longer to replace is the experience gained over a nine-year career like Trotter's. Besides Spikes, no other linebacker has more than a few years experience. Chris Gocong starts his first full season after missing last year with a neck injury. Stewart Bradley is a rookie and reserves Matt McCoy and Dedrick Roper are third-year pros.
``As long as they play good, I really don't care,'' coach Andy Reid said. ``I don't mind playing a young guy if they're on the ball and they understand what's going on and they're playing well.''
other team or possibly retire.
Trotter wore down at the end of last season because injuries to other linebackers such as Shawn Barber forced defensive coordinator Jim Johnson to play Trotter more than expected. Trotter had knee surgery after the 2005 season and wasn't as conditioned or as strong as he wanted, and the Eagles asked him to report in better shape this season.
It might have been too late, and Gaither took advantage.
``I consider myself to be fairly athletic, smart, intelligent,'' said Gaither. ``I have a nose for the ball. Any time you can have a guy like that in the middle who can run side-to-side, help in pass coverage, things like that, I think it helps the defense.''
For Trotter, sticking with the Eagles as a backup was never really an option.
``He's a proud guy,'' Reid said. ``For him to be a second-team player, I don't think it's right for him. There's a lot of team players and that's not a position you put him in.''
Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook faced Trotter and the first-team defense throughout training camp. Both insisted that Trotter hadn't lost a step.
``Here's a guy that was asked to slim down and he did that, a guy that came into camp in great shape, had a great training camp and also played well in two preseason games,'' McNabb said. ``It's something I did not expect, something that will probably take days for us to get over. Days or weeks.''
``He was still making plays, causing disruptions, calling out all our plays on the defense,'' Westbrook said. ``He still looked very good.''
Notes: DE Jerome McDougle, RB Ryan Moats and G Stefan Rodgers all had successful surgeries. ... Reid said it was unlikely that TE L.J. Smith (groin) will play Sunday. ... DT LaJuan Ramsey (ankle) is out of his protective boot, but did not practice.

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