Halapoulivaati Vaitai already has butterflies. He found out he would replace Lane Johnson as the Eagles’ starting right tackle Monday night, he first practiced with the other starters on Wednesday and he’ll play in his first NFL game on Sunday.
While the rookie fifth-round pick says he’ll be able to settle in after his first play against Washington this week, he’s already bubbling with excitement.
“It’s a good opportunity. I’m going to take it,” Vaitai, who goes by “Big V,” said. “It’s unfortunate for Lane, but that’s life. I got to be the next man up.”
The 6-6, 320-pound offensive lineman out of TCU will start after Johnson’s 10-game suspension for a second failed drug test was upheld this week. Vaitai noted that he started to feel comfortable after the preseason ended, and he gained confidence by practicing against Brandon Graham on a daily basis during the season.
Vaitai identified pass blocking as his “main concern,” but added it’s “starting to fall into place.”
“I might get some help [with running backs or tight ends chipping], but I’m a big boy,” Vaitai said. “I’m going to do everything to protect Carson [Wentz].”
Doug Pederson decided to replace Johnson with Vaitai instead of moving Allen Barbre from left guard to right tackle after Barbre’s strong start to the season. Barbre noted that he’s “most definitely” happy about remaining at left guard, a position he’s “naturally” more comfortable in because he’s played it for the last two seasons.
As for Vaitai, Jason Kelce added that the rookie’s steady progression is why teammates have faith in the new starter.
“First of all, it’s disappointing losing Lane. Lane’s been playing out of his mind. He’s been playing really, really good football this year, so it’s a shame that we’re going to miss him,” Kelce said. “(Vaitai) has really, really showed improvement each and every week. Very, very strong player with good hands. You see it when he run blocks a lot of times — he gets really good power at the point of attack.
“He’s a big guy, so his biggest thing is don’t get beat clean. If you get beat, make him run through you with how big he is. Make him run you over. Nine times out of 10, you’re not going to get a sack. You might get a little pressure, but when you get beat clean, that’s when the quarterback starts to get a little iffy if you’re going to block him at all.”
Kelce also relayed advice he gave Vaitai, which stems from the failed career of Danny Watkins, whom the Eagles drafted in the first round in 2011 but released just two years later.
“I give the same advice I always give young players: Just go out and play. Don’t overthink things. The worst thing you can do as a young player is you get beat one time or you’re thinking about so many different things — your first start, your first time going up against this caliber opponent,” Kelce said.
“Do the little techniques that are going to put you in a good position to be successful, and also it allows you to play fast. You don’t want to be thinking about all of these other things — possibilities, scenarios and whatnot. That slows your game down. That was one thing that I actually thought Danny Watkins was terrible at: He had a really bad habit of letting things get into his head and then mistakes would compound themselves. Ever since playing with Danny, I’ve tried to tell guys that.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
“I never really had hard feelings towards Philadelphia.” With his current contract expiring after this year, DeSean Jackson does not rule out a return to the Eagles.
Taking a look at three stats that matter.
Doug Pederson explains why Halapoulivaati Vaitai will be the starting right tackle against Washington.
NFC East Roundup: Brett Favre advises Tony Romo to bench himself until Dak Prescott struggles.
Carson Wentz’s stats don’t reflect how well he’s actually played in the first four games of his career.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Mychal Kendricks refers to his limited playing time when asked about his performance so far, reports Jeff McLane of the Inquirer.
The 26-year-old linebacker played almost every down, though, when he was healthy in 2014 (89 percent in 12 games) and in 2013 (89 percent in 15 games). Times have changed.
“I’m playing 33 percent,” Kendricks said. “I’m playing all right with what’s been given.”
Kendricks played almost exclusively in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s base package through the first three games. But he played some nickel with Stephen Tulloch on the Lions’ third drive of the first half, while regulars Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks watched.
“That was the plan going in,” Kendricks said. “Give those guys a break.”
DeSean Jackson may be maturing as a return to Philadelphia appears possible, writes Les Bowen of the Daily News.
“I’ve just matured. Handled my business like a professional. Learned a lot, from where I started to where I’m at now,” said Jackson, whose departure from the Eagles in 2014 was tinged by a story that accused him of gang ties, and by speculation about his well-known affinity for late nights and casinos. (But in reality it seemed to have more to do with Jackson’s casual attitude toward then-coach Chip Kelly’s tight rules.)
DeSean Jackson Jr., born to Jackson and girlfriend Kayla Phillips last Oct. 26, is “a blessing,” Jackson told a conference call Wednesday with reporters covering the Eagles. “I love my son. He’s definitely matured me a lot . . . Hopefully, one day when he gets older, he’ll be able to see how his dad went about business, and hopefully, he’ll be able to follow in the footsteps. Maybe be better!”
On Jackson’s social media these days, there are lots of baby pictures and notices of charity events, not so much of parties and jewelry.
Jim Schwartz and Frank Reich will address the media starting at 10:20.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.