Peters Stays Involved as Part of Big V’s OT Incubator
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — Much has been made about the quarterback incubator that the Eagles' set up to help Carson Wentz develop, led by a head coach and offensive coordinator who played the position at the professional level for over a decade apiece and a position coach who slung it in college at James Madison.
Another fast improving second-year Eagles player, left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, has his own advisory board to lean on these days with veteran offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, his assistant Eugene Chung, a former NFL first-round pick, and now Jason Peters, the injured future Hall of Famer who is intent on making sure he remains part of what is turning out to be a special season by making sure "Big V" lives up to his potential.
“He’ll text some guys on the staff and then they try to relay that message to me,” Vaitai told reporters at his locker earlier this week when discussing Peters. “When we played against Denver, he texted one of the guys who came up to me and said, ‘Big V, you’re over-setting.’ I said OK, I need to calm down a little bit.”
Vaitai has been asked to fill enormous shoes when Peters went down with a season-ending torn ACL against Washington on Oct. 23, a moment the veteran All-Pro showed what kind of a teammate he is and why he has so much respect in the Eagles' locker room. As he was being carted off, Peters was still trying to give tips on how to handle the Redskins' pass rush.
That mentality hasn't slowed and it's at least part of the reason Vaitai has been such a pleasant surprise as the next man up at left tackle.
“The good thing is JP is still on my side,” Vaitai said. “He still texts me every now and then before the game. And he calls me after the game and tells me what I need to work on.”
A fifth-round pick out of TCU in 2016, Vaitai struggled at times as a rookie when asked to replace right tackle Lane Johnson but this time around he's been more effective playing on the opposite side, a more natural spot for Vaitai and the one he excelled at as a senior with the Horned Frogs.
Vaitai, however, still believes there is plenty to improve upon.
"I tend to second-guess, and I rush through things," Vaitai admitted. "I need to be more patient.”
Others have a brighter outlook on how Vaitai has performed in the three games since Peters went down, blowouts against San Francisco, Denver and Dallas.
“I would say his pass blocking has been excellent,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said.
Conversely, the run blocking has been a little bit slower to come for Vaitai but he showed his athleticism and power against the Cowboys during Jay Ajayi's 71-yard run when he pulled and trapped the Dallas defensive line, opening up a significant hole that Ajayi was able to turn into a big play.
“That long run that Jay had in this last game where Big V is pulling, it was really good," Reich said. "... That particular block was a tough block and showed how athletic he was, and how his hips and leverage got into the block, creating just enough of a hole for Jay."
As for Peters, the conventional wisdom on great players is they don't make good coaches. The thought is that it's difficult to teach without the struggle of understanding something that doesn't come naturally and sometimes even easily.
That's not the case with Peters, however.
“Even when I speak to [Peters] about how we’re going to handle a certain guy or a certain move, and the way he explains it to me — ‘Hey, look, this guy’s got this little move at the end of the rush’ — that maybe the normal coach or person wouldn’t even see, he’s able to elaborate and explain that in a really unique way,” Stoutland explained.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen