Frank Reich spoke with reporters Thursday morning, doubling down on his support for Halapoulivaati Vaitai as the team’s best option at right tackle going forward.
“I think we’re always going to collectively, as a staff, sit down and talk through what’s the best five that gives us a chance to win,” Reich said. “We think we have good depth at our offensive line. We think Big V gives us the best chance to win.”
Vaitai, a fifth-round pick in this spring’s draft, started the first game of his career this past Sunday against Washington. He didn’t have a great first go.
Afterwards, there was some indignation in the locker room about Vaitai getting a shot that some veterans maybe think he didn’t deserve.
And yet support for the rookie seems to be a staff-wide stance.
On Monday, less than 24 hours after the game ended, head coach Doug Pederson also doubled down on his support for Vaitai as the team’s starting right tackle in the absence of Lane Johnson.
“[Vaitai] gives us the best opportunity to win right now,” Pederson said Monday. “He is our backup right tackle right now, therefore he’s going to play and he’s going to gain valuable experience, week in and week out.”
Pederson even went so far as to essentially promise a better game from Vaitai against Minnesota this weekend.
“He’ll be a lot better this week,” Pederson said. “He’s now got a full game under his belt, and that’s valuable experience he can learn from going into this week.”
Reich seemed to think the failure, while obviously not ideal at the time, will prove valuable for Vaitai moving forward.
“I think he’s fine,” Reich said. “It was not our best performance as an offensive unit. That tends to accentuate anybody who has a negative play here or there. I think we all learned from it, including Big V. “
It’s interesting to see the Eagles’ coaching staff commit heavily to Vaitai. It seems, on the surface, that they’re intent on keeping his spirit up in the wake of a brutal professional debut, which is admirable and, probably, smart. But Vaitai was bad.
Leaning this heavily into the idea of Vaitai being the best option at right tackle could potentially backfire on the coaches in the public eye; if Vaitai continues to play poorly, Pederson and Reich might eventually reach the conclusion a change is needed. If that change proves more effective than Vaitai was, that would bring the coaches’ evaluation of talent at key positions into question.
I think Vaitai has more in him than he showed against Washington. I’ll bet Doug Pederson and Frank Reich are hoping that’s true.