Halapoulivaati Vaitai, the Eagles’ fifth-round pick out of TCU in this past spring’s draft, could be yet another Birds rookie seeing major playing time in 2016.
According to Doug Pederson on Wednesday morning, the team’s coaching staff has been considering using Vaitai at right tackle if Lane Johnson’s 10-game suspension comes to fruition.
Johnson had a hearing on Tuesday to appeal his 10-game suspension; he will play on Sunday against the Lions, but could still miss 10 games this year.
The team’s initial plan, according to Pederson, was to move starting left guard Allen Barbre to right tackle in Johnson’s place, and then put backup Stefen Wisniewski in Barbre’s spot at left guard.
But Pederson said the coaches have been so pleased with what they’ve seen from Vaitai in the first four weeks of the season that he could simplify their solution.
“It’s something that we’ve come to, talking with Coach Stoutland and watching Big V closely, not only in the preseason but in practices these last couple of weeks,” Pederson said Wednesday. “Again, we want to exhaust all the possibilities. Allen Barbre’s been playing great at left guard, and if you don’t have to disrupt two different positions, and just do one, I think there’s a conversation there that we have to have. But yeah, he’s definitely in the mix.”
Pederson said Vaitai has not been taking first-team reps yet. He emphasized the word yet, which means Vaitai could see some first-team reps this week in preparation.
What Vaitai has been doing, however, is going against the Eagles’ starting defensive line in practice all year long, and Pederson has liked what he’s seen.
“The work he’s done in that capacity, against a good defensive line, gives us confidence that if we had to make that decision, we could do that and not bat an eye,” Pederson said. “Just from that standpoint, going back and evaluating his preseason games, looking at that and where he is, physically and mentally, it puts him in a good position to potentially be that right tackle.”
Pederson said at the end of his press conference that the Vaitai plan is not a certainty. There’s still a chance, if and when Johnson’s suspension is handed down, that the Eagles will roll with their initial plan of sliding Barbre to right tackle and slotting Wisniewski in at left guard.
But, for now, the conversation seems to be leaning Big V’s way.