BY JIM THOMAS
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
10/21/2009

After watching wide receiver Brandon Gibson make one eye-catching grab after another in practice, observers in Philadelphia wondered: Why can't this guy get on the field?

Well, Gibson will get his chance. Just not with the Eagles. In a trade-deadline surprise Tuesday, the Rams acquired Gibson and a fifth-round draft choice in 2010 in exchange for starting linebacker Will Witherspoon.

Although the Rams are optimistic that Donnie Avery will play this Sunday against Indianapolis despite a sore hip, they are hardly swimming in wide receivers. Since Gibson comes from a very similar offense in Philadelphia, with terminology that's almost identical, the Rams hope he's on the field against the Colts.

"Our pro scouts had been following him since preseason," Rams general manager Billy

Devaney said. "Philadelphia's done a great job of assembling really good wide receivers. So for a young guy to make the team, a sixth-round pick, that shows that the guy does have ability."

Eagles coach Andy Reid said as much in comments to Philadelphia reporters after the trade.

"Listen, I normally don't keep that many wide receivers," Reid said, referring to the fact that he kept seven wideouts entering the season. "But I kept him here. So that I think speaks for itself. I think he's going to have a great career in the National Football League, and that doesn't make it an easy situation."

A rookie sixth-round draft pick from Washington State, Gibson (6-0, 210) was the school's career leader in receiving yards. With Philly, he had been unable to crack one of the league's deepest receiver corps, appearing in only one game with no catches.

"He's got really good hands. Good size. He's a tough guy," Devaney said. "The (Eagles) offense is very similar to what we're doing here. It won't take him long to get up to speed. We'll throw him in the mix and see what he does."

All indications are that the trade wouldn't have materialized had not Eagles middle linebacker Omar Gaither suffered a foot injury Sunday. He won't play Sunday and could miss several weeks.

"We started off the season thinking we were in pretty good shape at the 'Mike' linebacker spot," Reid said. "We've been banged up here a little bit, so we needed to make this move.

"That's the only reason that I would've done something like this."

According to league sources, the Rams weren't approached until Monday by Philadelphia about Witherspoon. Unlike baseball, trade deadline moves are rarely made in the NFL.

Reports about possible trades involving tight end Randy McMichael and left tackle Alex Barron were unfounded. Nothing came remotely close to materializing with either player.

Speculation about a possible move involving running back Steven Jackson was even more off-base. But as rumor persisted the Rams front office decided to speak to Jackson on Saturday after the team arrived in Jacksonville. They wanted to assure him that they never considered moving him and that he was a big part of their plans for the season and for the future.

The Rams had no players in for visits Tuesday, but that didn't prevent them from making other roster moves:

Offensive tackle Phil Trautwein, who was with the team during training camp and the preseason, was signed to the 53-man roster off Cleveland's practice squad. To make room for Trautwein, wide receiver Nate Jones was released.

Linebacker K.C. Asiodu was promoted to the 53-man roster from the practice squad. Linebacker Dominic Douglas was cut to make room for Asiodu.

Sunday against Indianapolis, the Rams plan to start Paris Lenon at weakside linebacker in Witherspoon's place. Larry Grant will start at strongside linebacker. Next week, linebacker David Vobora returns from a four-game suspension for violating NFL policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

As for Witherspoon, he was a popular, high-character player. But his play declined last season, and he had a quiet season despite a switch back to his natural weakside position. He had no interceptions, no sacks, no forced fumbles (or recoveries), no pass breakups, and one quarterback pressure.

"Will's a good guy on the field; off the field," Devaney said. "Consummate professional. It's like anything. You make the decisions that you think are the best for the St. Louis Rams. At the end of the day, that's what we did."

Financially, trading Witherspoon results in a net salary cap loss of only about $180,000 this season. But he would've counted $6.8 million against the cap next season, and there was no guarantee he would have survived the offseason as a Ram.

"You're taken a little off guard when you get the call," Witherspoon said Tuesday afternoon, shortly after the trade.

At least Witherspoon is going from an 0-6 Rams team to a 3-2 Philadelphia squad that's considered an NFC title contender despite last Sunday's upset loss to Oakland.

"It means a lot to go to a team that has the opportunity to be a contender," Witherspoon said. "That's the way you have to look at it. ... I know I'm leaving kind of a comfort zone here (in St. Louis) being that I've been here for almost the last four years."

Bruised tailbone and all, Witherspoon will be the Eagles' starting middle linebacker for their next game, a Monday night contest against Washington. He was injured on the second play of overtime against Jacksonville, and was very sore after the game