Halapoulivaati Vaitai May Replace Lane Johnson

Plus: Doug Pederson says Ryan Mathews is still the Eagles' "primary" running back.

Jeff Stoutland, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Lane Johnson. (Jeff Fusco)

Jeff Stoutland, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Lane Johnson. (Jeff Fusco)

If precedent is an accurate predictor of how Lane Johnson’s appeal will be handled, his 10-game ban will likely be upheld and enforced starting next week when the Eagles visit Washington. But after saying last week that Allen Barbre would move to right tackle with Stefen Wisniewski at left guard if Johnson misses time, Doug Pederson confirmed Ed Werder’s report today that Halapoulivaati Vaitai may replace Johnson instead.

“It is true,” Pederson said. “Talking with [offensive line] coach [Jeff] Stoutland and watching Big V closely not only through preseason, but in practices these last couple of weeks — we want to exhaust all of the possibilities. Allen Barbre has been playing great at left guard, and if you don’t have to disrupt two positions and just do one, I think there’s some conversation there that we got to have. But yeah, he’s definitely in the mix.”

The rookie fifth-round pick came to Philadelphia regarded as a long-term developmental project, but he could start as soon as next week as Pederson expects Johnson to play in Detroit this week. While Barbre practiced with the starting offensive line as a right tackle in training camp, Vaitai has participated only with the backups.

“We have not given him first-team reps yet,” Pederson said. “He’s been going against our starting defensive line all of the regular season so far, so the work he’s done in that capacity against a good defensive line gives us confidence that if we had to make that decision, we could do that and not bat an eye. Going back and evaluating even his preseason games and looking at that and where he is physically [and] mentally puts him in a good position to potentially be that right tackle.”

While Johnson may miss time due to suspension, Pederson noted that the Eagles currently have no injured players. Zach Ertz and Leodis McKelvin are expected to play the Lions after missing the last two games, while Ryan Mathews will return as Philadelphia’s featured back.

Mathews has experienced “a little soreness” in his ankle, an injury that decreased his carries from 22 to nine to two in the first three weeks of the season, but he should be a full participant this week.

“Ryan is still our primary guy. He’s our go-to guy,” Pederson said. “He’s 100 percent and we go with Ryan and we mix the other guys in according to play or game plan.”

Watch Doug Pederson’s entire Wednesday morning press conference via the Birds 24/7 Facebook page.