‘Big V’ has Big Struggles in First NFL Action
To suggest that Eagles rookie right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled in his NFL debut would be putting it mildly.
The rookie fifth-round pick was taken to school today by Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who dominated right from the start of the game, finishing with two sacks, four quarterback hits and two tackles.
“Started out just trying to get his legs," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said after the game. "Had a couple missed assignments early and felt like he settled into the game as the game wore on. We used more help on his side as the game wore on as well, really on both edges. He’s a warrior, he’s a battler. He stepped up and did a god job. He’ll learn from it and be ready for next week.”
Overall, quarterback Carson Wentz was sacked five times and hit 11 times.
It was a rough start for Vaitai, who was making his first ever NFL appearance. However, Pederson said he never thought about making a change.
"No, I’ve got so much confidence in all the guys," explained Pederson. "That sends a bad message to the players on the team, and again, it’s our job as coaches to make sure our guys are ready to play.”
The problem here is this is the NFL and the best players need to play. One thing that puzzled me about this move when it was announced during the week, was the fact that Vaitai had been inactive for the first four games.
How did he make the move from inactive to starter?
Consider if Lane Johnson had gotten hurt during one of the first four games they Eagles wouldn't have turned to their new starter Vaitai, they would have had to go in another direction. With that being the case, there had to be someone Pederson trusts more the previous four weeks in the even Johnson went down, so why not in the second half of today's game?
"I just like the way he’s matured and he’s worked during practice when he’s gone against our guys," Pederson said when asked what gives him confidence in Vaitai at this point. "Just what we saw in training camp with him being in a position to help us and the fact that we didn’t have to disrupt two spots; we could just focus on one and get one player ready to go and we’ll continue to work with him.”
There is no question the Redskins were aware that Vaitai was inexperienced at they went after him early and often with Kerrigan.
"Their starting right tackle was suspended for the next 10 games or whatever and they brought in their rookie and there was no way Ryan [Kerrigan] was going to keep him out of the game," said Redskins defensive end Chris Baker. "He [Kerrigan] did a good job earlier really of getting after him and disrupting their pass game and we did a good job upfront pushing the pocket and clogging up the run lanes."
So what options do the Eagles have?
Well the original thought was moving left guard Allen Barbre out to right tackle where he started when Johnson was suspended in 2014 and inserting veteran Stefen Wisniewski in at left guard. Another possibility would be to use Matt Tobin, who has started 21 games during his career, mostly at guard, but as practiced at tackle for most of his NFL career and is listed as the back-up left tackle currently.