PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Halapoulivaati Vaitai admits he’s not much of a talker both in and out of the locker room.
“I’m to myself in the meeting rooms,” said Vaitai. “I’m just there. I don’t talk. I just sit there and watch the coaches. I’ve got to get use to this.”
What Vaitai is getting used to is the sudden spotlight which has been thrust upon him. The quiet rookie is now the Eagles’ starting right tackle for the next ten weeks. Lane Johnson’s suspension has opened the door for the fifth round draft pick, and Vaitai is quickly getting up to speed for his first NFL start on Sunday in Washington.
“You’ve got to get used to the game plan,” Vaitai said. “The last couple of weeks I’ve been on the scout team, so I’ve just been looking at the lines. Now, I have to think, but it’s helping me to prepare. I’ve got the veterans helping me.”
The Eagles could have shifted Left Guard Allen Barbre to right tackle, but elected to keep Barbre in his regular starting spot to avoid more than one change to the offensive line. Head Coach Doug Pederson made it clear the team is not treating Vaitai’s situation as a week-to-week process.
“Fully committed,” Pederson said of Vaitai. “He’s had a great week of practice and a good week of preparation. There are a few mental things that we cleaned up during the week and that’s why you practice.”
Vaitai’s teammates have been impressed with what they have seen with Vaitai on the practice field. Right Guard Brandon Brooks will be lining up next to Vaitai on Sunday, and Brooks believes the rookie will be well-prepared when he takes the field against Washington.
“Just let him go out and play,” said Brooks. “Any funky looks or any questions he may have in the middle of the game or coming off the sidelines, I just want to make sure I can answer them for him and help him out.”
Ultimately, it will be up to Vaitai to perform at a high level for the next ten weeks. No one is expecting the rookie to play as well as Johnson has over the first four games, but Vaitai has to play well enough to protect Carson Wentz from taking a host of hits from opposing pass rushers. The first test comes on Sunday.
“I’v e been working on my technique all week,” Vaitai said. “I’m ready.”