‘Big V’ to step in for Johnson
PHILADELPHIA >> Eagles rookie offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai won over Doug Pederson with the introductory handshake.
Vaitai’s massive hands are as intimidating as pronouncing his first name.
“Big, athletic and the football intelligence, the IQ is there,” Pederson said of Vaitai, whom he calls the the Big V. “You shake his hand, he’s got big, powerful strong hands. Those were all things that intrigued us back when we had an opportunity to draft him.”
The “Big V” era begins Sunday when the Eagles oppose Washington at FedEx Field. Vaitai gets the nod at right tackle in place of Lane Johnson, suspended 10 games for violating the NFL’s policy for performance enhancing drugs, because of his size and upside. Vaitai was told he’d be the guy Monday night. Not long after that he passed the excitement on to his family.
“I started with my parents,” Vaitai said. “This is a big bonus for me. I’m taking a big step. This is my job now. I’ve got to keep this job.”
Congratulations continued pouring in Wednesday, when Pederson made Vaitai’s start official. Among other TCU alums, Trevone Boykin, the rookie backup quarterback with the Seahawks, and Josh Doctson, the rookie wide receiver with Washington texted their best wishes to Big V.
Vaitai will be matched against pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan this weekend.
“From what I’ve seen of him, he’s more of a hands guy,” Vaitai said. “He’s pretty quick off the ball so I’ve got to be ready for that. I might get a little help but I’m a big boy. I’m going to do everything to protect Carson (Wentz).”
Pederson went with Vaitai, who hasn’t suited up this season, on the recommendation of offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. At this point the Eagles thought it would be more productive if they made one change to the starting lineup, not two.
If Vaitai doesn’t get it done the Eagles can move left guard Allen Barbre to right tackle and play rookie third-round pick Isaac Seumalo or veteran Stefen Wiskniewski at left guard.
Pederson indicated the Eagles are unlikely to alter their plan because Vaitai is
in the lineup.
“We’re not changing the game plan or any of that,” Pederson said. “As you get into the football game if you see that maybe a guy needs some help, we can obviously help him with backs and tight ends like most teams will do. But if everything is great and going as planned, then, no, we just roll. Obviously the run game helps guys like that, especially in their first start. So we lean a little bit more on that maybe. But it will be monitored. But a full week of practice with him and he’ll be fine.”
As for Johnson, he’s not allowed on Eagles property during the suspension. He’s also forbidden to speak to Birds coaches or front office but can keep in touch with the trainer, Chris Peduzzi, as he has an elbow issue. Pederson said Johnson plans to go back to Oklahoma, his alma mater, to rehab and workout.
Johnson isn’t eligible to return until Dec. 19. The Eagles oppose the Giants three days later at the Linc. He’s not guaranteed the job when he comes off the suspended list.
“Right now the timing of it is a little iffy because it’s a Thursday game against the Giants,” Pederson said. “So we’ve just got to make a decision at that point and see where he is physically and mentally, and where we are as an offense at that point to make that decision. It’s hard now sitting here to say he’s got his job back. But at the same time, I just won’t speculate… that’s 10 weeks away.”