Pederson Commits to Vaitai
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Eagles coach Doug Pederson told reporters Wednesday morning that rookie fifth-round pick Halapoulivaati Vaitai will indeed be the team’s starting right tackle on Sunday against Washington.
The move was made in the wake of Lane Johnson’s 10-game PED suspension that was upheld by an arbitrator earlier in the week.
“He’s worked extremely hard,” Pederson said when discussing Vaitai. “He’s gone against our defensive front, not only through training camp but the regular season. He’s a smart kid, athletic kid, strong kid. Just excited to watch him play on Sunday.”
Pederson also claimed he would not be scaling back the game plan to protect Vaitai, at least at first.
“We’re not changing game plan or any of that,” Pederson said when explaining his decision. “As you get into the football game, if you see a guy is needing help, we can obviously help him with backs and tight ends, like most teams will do.
“But if everything is great and going as planned, then no, we just roll. ...It’ll be monitored, obviously, but a full week of practice with him. He’ll be fine. We’re not going to handcuff the kid so much that he can’t play.”
The Eagles have known Johnson was likely going to be sidelined at some point dating back to the preseason when the original plan was to kick out Allen Barbre to right tackle and allow either rookie third-round pick Isaac Seumalo or veteran Stefen Wisniewski to step in for Barbre.
Vaitai spent most of training camp as the third-team right tackle behind Johnson and Dennis Kelly, who was eventually traded to Tennessee for receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.
Even after that move, however, “Big V” was kept deep on the depth chart when Barbre started taking reps at RT with the ones in case Johnson was suspended and Lane handled the work with the twos.
What evidently changed was Vaitai’s work with the scout team while going against the impressive Eagles defensive line in practice.
As for Johnson, who is now barred from the facility for the next 10 weeks, the coach expressed his disappointment in the player, who has proven to be one of the Eagles’ best.
“I just wanted to express, through myself, through Stout (OL coach Jeff Stoutland), one, obviously disappointed,” Pederson said. “And we all are accountable for our actions.”
Pederson also revealed that Johnson will be spending his time adrift back in Oklahoma, where he attended college, and that’s where he will be doing his rehab for the hyperextended elbow he suffered against Detroit.
In other injury news, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (ankle), cornerback Leodis McKelvin (hamstring) and defensive end/special teams ace Bryan Braman (AC shoulder joint) all missed practice Wednesday but Pederson expects they will all be able to play against the Redskins.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen