Ped­er­son stick­ing with ‘Big V’ de­spite pres­sure on Wentz

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Jack McCaf­fery jm­c­caf­fery@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Jack­McCaf­fery on Twit­ter

Rookie of­fen­sive line­man Halapouli­vaati Vaitai strug­gled in Sun­day’s Ea­gles loss. But Doug Ped­er­son says he will still start against the Vik­ings.

PHILADEL­PHIA >> In the search for guilt in the Ea­gles’ 27-20 loss Sun­day in Wash­ing­ton, Halapouli­vaati Vaitai has been de­clared safe.

Though the 6-6, 315-pound rookie right tackle had his early strug­gles, and while he has been a pop­u­lar tar­get for blame since the Ea­gles dropped their sec­ond con­sec­u­tive game, he will start again Sun­day against the vis­it­ing Min­nesota Vik­ings.

That’s what Doug Ped­er­son hinted after the game Sun­day. And that’s what he stressed Mon­day at the No­vaCare Com­plex at his reg­u­lar day-after press con­fer­ence.

“You look at it from a cer­tain per­spec­tive then you get a chance to come in to­day and watch it again and you get a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive,” the Ea­gles’ coach said. “We felt like he had a slow start but re­ally set­tled in nicely through­out the game.”

That slow start be­gan im­me­di­ately, with Vaitai be­ing man­han­dled by Ryan Ker­ri­gan and sack­ing Car­son Wentz on the game’s first play from scrim­mage. And be­fore the Birds’ first series was over, Wentz would be sacked again.

The chain re­ac­tion, which be­gan when Lane John­son was sus­pended 10 games for flunk­ing a per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing-drug test, re­quired Ped­er­son to add help to the right side of the line and in­crease pro­tec­tion in the back­field. That com­pro­mised his op­tion to use those play­ers in scor­ing, rather than pro­tec­tion, sit­u­a­tions.

“Was it per­fect? Was it pretty? No,” Ped­er­son said.

“Were there as­sign­ment er­rors? Yes. And I’m not go­ing to stand here and point the fin­ger at ‘Big V’ be­cause that’s not what hap­pened. There were enough mis­takes all around in this foot­ball game that cost us this game. But I thought as the game pro­gressed, he set­tled in nicely and did some good things.”

Vaitai didn’t drop any passes, wasn’t re­spon­si­ble for an inch of the Red­skins’ 230 rush­ing yards, didn’t call a time­out just to punt and wasn’t as shaky late as he was early. After the game, Ped­er­son even called him a “war­rior” and a “bat­tler.” It’s why he started him in the first place, rather than mov­ing Allen Bar­bre to right tackle and mix­ing a veteran, ei­ther Ste­fen Wis­niewski or Matt Tobin, onto the line. It’s why he took the risk of pro­tect­ing his rookie fran­chise quar­ter­back with a fifth-round draft choice mak­ing his first ca­reer start.

“Lis­ten, there’s a risk ev­ery time they take the field,” Ped­er­son said. “Plain and sim­ple, ev­ery time we take the field, there’s a risk, re­gard­less of whether it’s a rookie or a veteran out there play­ing. I can’t get caught up in that. I’m not go­ing to worry about that as much my fo­cus is to get ‘V’ ready to go.”

That agenda was at least cu­ri­ous, given the Ea­gles’ sta­tus as a 3-2 team in a crowded, bal­anced di­vi­sion. While he is ob­li­gated to al­low Wentz ex­tended de­vel­op­men­tal time, Ped­er­son’s de­ci­sion to fa­vor Vaitai over vet­er­ans sug­gests that he has a long-term view of his pro­gram. That’s why he was asked whether he was try­ing to de­velop young play­ers … or a play­off team?

“He gives us the best op­por­tu­nity to win right now,” Ped­er­son said. “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.”

One week in, Ped­er­son has de­cided that Vaitai has gained enough ex­pe­ri­ence for an en­core.

“He’ll be a lot bet­ter this week,” the coach said. “He’s now got a full game un­der his belt. And that’s valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence that he can learn from go­ing into this week.”

NICK WASS — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ea­gles head coach Doug Ped­er­son speaks from the podium after Sun­day’s loss to the Red­skins in Landover, Md. Ped­er­son hinted Sun­day that he wasn’t go­ing to blame rookie Halapouli­vaati Vaitai for the team’s pro­tec­tion prob­lems, and Mon­day he dou­bled down and in­sisted ‘Big V’ will start against the Vik­ings.

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