Eagles Not Expecting Drop Off with ‘Big V’ in Lineup
The Eagles knew it was coming, they just didn't know when. Fifth-round pick Halapoulivaati Vaitai has has been waiting for this opportunity, and now he will get at least the next 10 weeks to show he belongs.
Vaitai hasn't played in any game action since back in the preseason finale against the Jets, but he said he is not worried about the long layoff.
"Coaches said you might be up next, this is your job, your a professional athlete, you got to do your job and that's what I am going to do," Vaitai said when asked if he was concerned about the lack of playing time."
"Its my job, I love it, and I want to keep it forever."
Say hello to the Philadelphia Eagles’ new starting right tackle; the man they call "Big V".
Vaitai is expected to replace Lane Johnson at right tackle guard, while Johnson serves his 10-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs., starting this week when the Eagles travel to Washington to face the Redskins.
Johnson is eligible to return Week 16 when the Eagles face the Giants on Thursday night.
"Well, I’ve never been a big fan of Lane Johnson," admitted ESPN NFL reporter Sal Paolantonio on the Sports Bash. "But he’s played very well this season. The Eagles have only given up one sack from the left side, that’s tops in the NFL. Let me repeat that, one sack from the left side to a defensive end or a linebacker.
"They’re going to have to help Big V. They’re going to have to line up Brent Celek or someone to help him."
"If you put Celek on the right side to make sure Big V is protected and you use a back to chip on that side that reduces your options," Paolantonio continued. "The Eagles lead the league in passes at or behind the line of scrimmage for a reason. They try very hard to make it easy for Wentz."
This will be Vaitai's first career NFL game, he has been inactive for the first five weeks of the season. But he won't have to look over his shoulder, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson says this isn't a week-to-week things.
"Fully committed. Fully committed," Pederson stated. "He's had a great week of practice [and] a good week of preparation. There's a few mental things that we cleaned up during the week and that's why you practice."
"From the standpoint of him executing and doing what we ask him to do, he’s fine and we're committed to him being at that right tackle."
The fifth-round pick out of TCU, Vaitai played both left and right tackle for the Horned Frogs and was part of a concerted effort bu Eagles GM Howie Roseman this offseason to improve the depth on the offensive line. When the Eagles drafted him, he said one of the reasons he fell to the fifth round was lack of consistency. The team is hoping he has improved in that area after being a part of OTAs, mini-camp, training camp and five weeks of practice.
One change for Vaitai will be working from a three-point stance. Throughout his college career, he worked out of a two-point stance and it's somethings that's been an adjustment for him.
"The system they ran there [Texas Christian University] was all two-point stance," said Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Riech. "So what takes time [here] is the run game with all those combination blocks. What Stout [Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] will talk about is how to surface the blocks and how to work those combination blocks."
"There's just no substitute for reps and reps and reps," Reich continued. "He's had a good bit of work here now, but this opportunity is going to be good. I'm sure he'll get better as the weeks go on."
While Pederson indicated Vaitai has earned this opportunity, he also didn't want to rock the boat. Many thought the Eagles would move Allen Barbre from left guard to right tackle, where he started two seasons ago while Johnson was suspended, but Barbre has been playing so well, they decided to give Big V a shot.
"I felt like, and discussing this with Coach Stoutland and Frank [Eagles Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich], where Big V [Halapoulivaati Vaitai] is right now in his progression of the offense and where he is as an athlete, we felt very comfortable with him going over there and not moving Allen," Pederson explained.
"Allen is playing well at left guard. We didn't want to disrupt two positions."
What stands out about Vaitai is his tremendous size, he is 6-foot-6, 320 lbs., with long arms and massive hands, Vaitai has everything teams look for physically in a tackle prospect and its one of the reasons the Eagles drafted him.
"He’s big, athletic. I mean, he swallowed up a lot of defensive ends in college," explained Pederson. "Very athletic. Versatile. And when you get to meet him and know him, and you get to see how smart and intelligent, the football intelligence [and] the IQ is there. Shake his hand. He's got big, powerful, strong hands. Those are all things that intrigued us back when we had opportunity to draft him."
Vaitai made 30 starts for the Horned Frogs, moving from right tackle to the left side as a senior, showing the versatility that Pederson discussed this week.
With the Redskins on the schedule, the task ahead for Vaitai will be vastly different than what he saw back in the preseason games. While linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy have both played well, but overall, the Redskins have been the worst team in the league in stopping the run.
The Redskins’ front three of Ziggy Hood, Kendrick Golston, and Chris Baker are part of a Washington defense has been gouged for 5.1 yards per carry and 130.0 rushing yards per game through five weeks.
"The Washington run-defense has been one of the worst in a variety of ways," ESPN.com NFL insider KC Joyner explained on the Sports Bash. "If they can't hold that together, Philadelphia will be able to dictate the pace of this game."
Certainly, changing out maybe your best offensive lineman five weeks into the season, or at any point in the season, is not ideal. However, continuity is key and might facing a poor rush defense like Washington could help give Vaitai some confidence out of the gates.
"Continuity trumps all on the offensive line," Joyner said. "If you look at offensive line play when teams have continuity on the offense line, that's when teams play well. In fact its probably a bigger factor than talent. You have to have talent, but if you have just reasonably talented guys, and they play together for awhile, your going to find they can play better with continuity."