The Philadelphia Eagles are desperately missing their starting right tackle, Lane Johnson, as he serves his suspension. His replacement, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, had a very forgettable first career start versus the Washington Redskins.
The team’s 2016 fifth-round pick struggled mightily versus the Redskins Pro Bowl pass-rusher Ryan Kerrigan. Vaitai allowed two sacks and two hurries in 29 pass plays, according to pro-football focus. By no means was this a good performance and we’re all aware of that, but Doug Pederson refuses to give up on Vaitai after one bad performance and there’s justifiable reasons for that.
During the preseason, the news of Lane Johnson’s potential suspension for PED use surfaced. The team and Johnson were aware of the ban and started coming up with solutions at right tackle to replace Johnson. During the third week of the preseason, Pederson played current left guard, Allen Barbre, at right tackle, while sticking the versatile Stefen Wisniewski at left guard. That was the assumed plan of how the Eagles were to replace Johnson during his suspension.
Pederson opted to go with the rookie Vaitai at right tackle once Johnson’s suspension was official prior to the week six matchup versus the Washington Redskins. He cited Barbre’s Pro Bowl caliber of play at left guard and not wanting to shake up two positions along the offensive line for why he chose Vaitai to start at right tackle. There’s more to just that for Pederson’s decision.
Barbre has only played right tackle once in the regular season during his career, and it was only for half of the game. Barbre replaced Johnson in 2014, while he was serving a four game suspension. Barbre left the game with a high ankle injury that ultimately ended his 2014 campaign. How he transitions to right tackle is not only a complete mystery to the fans, but to the coaching staff, and more importantly Pederson himself.
Wisniewski, who’d have to fill in at left guard if such a move was made with Barbre, has only spent a season at the position during his rookie year in 2011 with the Oakland Raiders. He played well at left guard, but proved he was more suited as a center, which he’s ultimately played ever since from 2012 with the Raiders up until 2015 with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
How Wisniewski and Barbre would perform at those spots for the Eagles with the limited experience they both have are just as much of a question mark as Vaitai is starting at right tackle. They also pose as more of a risk since the team would be affecting two positions along the offensive line instead of one.
Of course the Eagles have Matt Tobin on the roster as well. He could be a logical answer to replace Vaitai at right tackle if the rookie fails to show any improvement over his next couple of starts.
“He had some that were mental,” Runyan told Ike Reese and Michael Barkann when asked about Big V’s mistakes on Sunday. “There weren’t a lot of technical or physical breakdowns, it was just not being in that situation and not recognizing it and not blocking the right person. Because, he’d never been there — it’s called experience.
“And that’s really the difference between a starter and a backup in the league, is you have the experience to where you’re going to see that strange situation once a game, maybe twice a month. And if you don’t react properly to it, it creates an issue for a team. Your quarterback gets hit and that’s really what it is. He just needed the repetition and obviously with Lane being the starter and being in there, and not being hurt, the guy didn’t have the opportunity to get any snaps. So yeah, he’s learning on the run.
“But from what I see, from the technical aspect of it — there’s a couple where he’s out over his toes,” Runyan continued. “That’s going to happen, veterans do that. But from a technical and physical standpoint, it looks like he has the ability to do it, he just has to get comfortable with the x’s and o’s of it.”
It’s only been one game and the first of Vaitai’s career. Yes – he struggled in it, but that doesn’t define his entire career. He’s filling in on short notice and in a tough stretch versus team’s with great pass-rushers. Instead of replacing him with unknowns as well, let him gain the much needed experience, and find out if he has a starting future with this team. That’s what Pederson is doing. Patience always proves to be a virtue.