‘Big V’ to step in for Johnson

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Bob Grotz bgrotz@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @BobGrotz on Twit­ter

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.”

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