Throughout the first three years of his NFL career, Halapoulivaati Vaitai has had his ups and downs. But all of them have come at tackle, including when he started Super Bowl LII protecting Nick Foles’ blind side.
After all that, when he showed up at OTAs this spring, he had a new position.
The Eagles cross-trained Vaitai at guard during all of OTAs. In fact, he’s been the team’s first-team right guard in the absence of starter Brandon Brooks.
It’s a move that can only help Vaitai’s career and the Eagles’ depth.
Big V has handled it extremely well,” head coach Doug Pederson said last week. “We're still cross-training him at guard and tackle and giving him some reps outside, but he's getting comfortable in there. It's a new position. Guys are on you a little bit faster, but he's transitioned well. He's picked it up, and he's smart. He's right in there with (Jason) Kelce and handling line calls and things that they have to do, and he's filled that role this spring well.
Vaitai’s new home is just a couple feet away from his old home, but there’s a world of difference between playing tackle and guard.
The biggest difference is he needs to be more aggressive at guard. Playing tackle is all about the kick out and patience. Playing guard is all about the initial punch against big linemen who are on you quicker.
Big V — never very loquacious — boiled it down to this:
I gotta just switch my mind,” Vaitai said. “I’m not a tackle anymore. I just gotta go out there and help the team. Gotta help the team.
Considering he was a fifth-round pick, the Eagles have already gotten a lot out of Vaitai, who enters his fourth and final season under contract. No, he hasn’t developed into their future left tackle, but he’s been Jason Peters’ replacement in recent years with varied levels of success. Say what you want about his play in 2017, but he was the guy on the field in Minnesota when the confetti rained down.
One of the most curious things about Vaitai’s career has been the ups and downs. Confidence has always been an issue for him. During the Super Bowl run, Peters was always telling Vaitai he could do it and eventually Vaitai believed him. When Vaitai struggles, it sometimes seems hard for him to get past those struggles. A change could be a good thing.
The ability to play guard makes him even more valuable to the Eagles. And it might help his career in the long term. I’ve talked about Vaitai to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Barrett Brooks several times. He played tackle and guard in the NFL and thinks guard might end up being a great thing for Vaitai.
It shouldn’t be that much of a shock that Vaitai is getting cross-trained. The Eagles drafted Andre Dillard in the first round this year and he’s expected to be their future starter at left tackle. And the Eagles still have Jordan Mailata, who is now training at right tackle too. It appears they’re grooming him for the swing tackle role, which sort of makes Big V the odd man out.
But now Vaitai joins Isaac Seumalo and Matt Pryor as Eagles with guard-tackle versatility. If he takes to the new position, it will help him and the team.
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