Everyone assured us that right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai would be ready for his NFL debut. He wasn’t. So where does the team go from here?
In the wake of Lane Johnson being suspended for 10 games due to a second PED violation, rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai prepared to make his Philadelphia Eagles debut against NFC East rival Washington Redskins. Head coach Doug Pederson was asked all week if the 2016 fifth-round draft pick was up for the challenge and he repeatedly said that yes, Vaitai was ready.
This despite Vaitai having never actually dressed for a game and the huge shoes that Johnson left for him to fill. Eagles fans all assumed Pederson knew what he was talking about thanks to the incredible performance of the other rookie on the squad, QB Carson Wentz.
Turns out, Pederson was wrong. Very, very wrong.
Vaitai’s debut was a certified disaster. Wentz ended up getting sacked five times over the course of the game, including a costly pair in the second half.
The result was that Wentz was never able to settle into any kind of rhythm and spent most of the game running for his life. That’s usually the result when the pocket collapses around you each and every play. Wentz finished the game completing 11 of 22 passes and no touchdowns. In was a very un-Wentz like performance from a quarterback who has shown he is capable of better.
Of course, this is the kind of thing that happens when your rookie right tackle is completely overmatched. Which is exactly what the Redskins’ Ryan Kerrigan did to Vaitai. Kerrigan had his way with the rookie and was able to sack Wentz twice.
So the question remains: what should the Eagles do with Halapoulivaati Vaitai?
There have been some thought that Pederson should play Stefen Wisniewski at left guard and move Allen Barbre to right tackle. In fact, when the Johnson suspension first became known, it was thought that this was what Pederson would do. But for some reason no one quite understood, he had faith that the rookie Vaitai could get the job done.
Turns out, not so much.
So do you leave Vaitai in to play against the Minnesota Vikings and their aggressive defense and lethal pass rush, or do you make a move to try and fix the situation, even if it means a possible blow to Vaitai’s confidence?
It’s tough to say. This team isn’t winning any playoff games this season, that much has become very clear. So you could leave Vaitai in and let him learn the hard way through a baptism of fire. Hopefully it will allow him to grow and become a better player.
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Or you could bench him and hope his ego doesn’t get bruised too much. Yes, you might win a couple more games, but given that the major flaws of this roster that were hidden in the 3-0 start are now out in the open, does it really matter?
Me? I’d leave him in and see what the kid has got. If he continues to underperform, you bench Vaitai then and call it a day. I mean, yes he was bad but not quite “Winston Justice against the Giants” bad.
No one could be that bad. Right?