Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s Wake-up Call
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - When you're 6-foot-6 and about 320 pounds, hiding isn't the easiest thing to do so Halapoulivaati Vaitai wasn't about to make reporters seek him after a poor performance in New England.
“The last time I played that bad was my first game in my rookie year,” the third-year professional said. “I’m glad it happened again – another wake-up call. I gotta protect the quarterback.”
On one hand it's nice to get such a call when the result of the game doesn't matter but Vaitai also shrugged that off because it's his job to be the blind-side protector of the most important player on the field and things could have ended much worse for the Eagles after Adrian Clayborn raced around Vaitai for a strip sack of Nick Foles which turned into a touchdown for the other side in a 37-20 setback.
Foles was forced to leave the game with a "strained shoulder" but was back at practice on Sunday.
“It wasn’t ‘Big V,’ for whatever reason," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "He’s definitely played better. We know exactly who he is. He’s hard on himself, like anybody is. There are some things he would want back, obviously, but at the same time, he understands what he needs to do to continue to get better and improve.”
Vaitai had issues from the opening snap in Foxborough and according to ProFootballFocus.com, he allowed 13 of the Eagles' 35 pressures on the night. To put that number in context, "Big V" allowed only 2.44 pressures per game last season.
“I felt myself open up too fast. I tried to correct it, but I could never correct it,” Vaitai explained. "... I just wasn’t myself. I couldn’t bounce back. Usually, I bounce back."
As a rookie Vaitai often struggled as the main replacement for All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson during the latter's 10-game PED suspension.
When adversity struck the Eagles again last season in the form of Jason Peters' torn ACL, Vaitai stepped up at LT and played well during the team's run to a Super Bowl LII championship.
The Eagles are being very cautious with the 36-year-old Peters, who likely will not play during the preseason giving Vaitai plenty of opportunities to redeem himself Thursday in Cleveland.
“I wasn’t ready mentally [against New England]," Vaitai admitted. "I guess it was one of those deals where you just get mentally tired, but I shouldn’t use that as an excuse, I should be mentally ready every time,” Vaitai said.
The big man also wasn't leaning on that preseason excuse.
"That doesn't matter," he quickly asserted. "I still have to do my job. ... I wasn’t doing what [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] wanted me to do. ... I was just embarrassed. I didn’t even want to watch it, but I had to.”
Peters has been a mentor to Vaitai and often offers the younger player advice, most famously as he was being carted off with his injury against Washington last season. The veteran also offered up counsel in New England as an extra OL coach.
“'Hey man, try to sit down. You’re playing too high,'” is how Vaitai described Peters' advice.
Now, it's got to be about moving on and not letting one poor performance affect the psyche.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen