Eagles

Halapoulivaati Vaitai returning to the scene of the crime

Halapoulivaati Vaitai returning to the scene of the crime

He’s had one of the stranger careers in Eagles history.

Big V has been benched, he’s started in a Super Bowl and everything in between.

On Sunday in Washington, he’ll start at the same position in the same stadium against the same team he made his ill-fated NFL debut three years ago.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai started at right tackle in place of suspended Lane Johnson when the Eagles faced the Redskins at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., in October of 2016 with disastrous consequences.

Doug Pederson and Jeff Stoutland decided to leave Vaitai by himself and not give him any help, and Ryan Kerrigan took advantage with 2 1/2 of the Redskins’ five sacks in a 27-20 game. The Eagles didn’t score an offensive touchdown and managed just 239 yards of offense.

You’re excited for your first game and you do really bad,” Vaitai recalled. “You want to do good your first game but you end up doing worse. All the guys (after that) told me just calm down, just be yourself, and that’s what I’ve been doing. Be myself and just learn along the way.

Vaitai wound up replacing Jason Peters at left tackle for the stretch run and playoffs in 2017 and held his own. He’s only started one game since and following Andre Dillard’s unsuccessful attempt at right tackle against the Seahawks, he currently backs up both guards and both tackles.  

With Johnson dealing with a high ankle sprain, Vaitai makes his first start since last year’s home loss against the Cowboys, when he also started at right tackle.

This time Kerrigan won’t be out there. He’s on Injured Reserve with a calf injury. But Big V will still have his hands full with a formidable Redskins defensive front.

That was years ago,” Vaitai said. “A lot has happened over the years. … All the ups and downs. Gained a lot of knowledge. I’m excited to play these guys again. … I wish (Kerrigan) was coming back. I love playing him.

It’s not easy to do what Big V is doing.

He gets a few reps here and there during the week, but he’s got to be ready to go in at a moment’s notice if either tackle or either guard goes down.

Just trying to prepare myself like I’ve been doing the last couple years, get ready for multiple positions because you never know when you’re going to get called,” he said. “When I get ready during the week I try to train myself like I’m a starter because you never know where you’re going to go. Left tackle, left guard, right guard or right tackle. I’m just trying to get ready. … Trying to get my mind right.

Even this week, with first-team reps at right tackle, Vaitai is still preparing to play the other positions because you never know how the line will be shuffled if injuries start piling up.

And with this team, they always seem to pile up.

“I’ve been in this situation numerous times,” he said. “During the week still try to train like I’m the starter. Starting this week mainly focusing on right tackle, but if anything happens, make sure I’m good at guard and all that stuff.”

Vaitai is now 26 years old and in his fourth season. Sunday's must-win against the lowly Skins will be his 20th career start, including the 2017 playoffs.

We ask a lot of V,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “He fills in at a bunch of spots in the line. And kind of an unsung hero. And I thought he did really well holding up in there the other night when Lane went down. And he's prepared at right tackle. He's prepared at the guard spots. He's prepared at left tackle. So he's prepared to go in the game when his number's called. The guys have a lot of confidence in him. He's got good strength. Understands exactly how we want it done. When he has the opportunity to go out there and practice for a full week knowing that he's going to play I think for anybody, regardless what your job is, there's a certain level of comfort in that as well.

Vaitai was drafted in 2016 with a 5th-round draft pick the Eagles acquired in the summer of 2015 from the Steelers in exchange for Brandon Boykin, who hasn’t played since 2015.

Big V isn’t under contract beyond this year, so at this point he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this spring.

It will be interesting to see what happens. Big V may be content to stay with the Eagles as a backup, and they’d be happy to have him.

But he’s also playing on a four-year 5th-round rookie contract and certainly could be looking for a starting opportunity, which he won’t get here.

Right now I’m not worried about that,” he said. “Right now I’m just focused on this week. It’s the most important game. All that stuff can take care of itself in the offseason. I can just block it out.

Good idea. The Eagles need the Super Bowl version of Big V Sunday and definitely not the 2016 version.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles

Eagles remember Kobe Bryant as 'a champion for the ages'

Eagles remember Kobe Bryant as 'a champion for the ages'

Anybody who’s seen the video of Kobe Bryant celebrating the Eagles’ Super Bowl championship knows how much he loved his hometown football team.

The Eagles joined the rest of the sports world Sunday in mourning Bryant’s death in a California helicopter crash:

The Eagles are shocked and saddened to learn of the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. He was a champion for the ages, a fearless competitor, and an outstanding ambassador for the city. Our hearts go out to all of today’s victims and their families.

The Eagles and Bryant had a very close relationship. Bryant spoke to the team in December of 2017 while the Eagles spent a week in the Los Angeles area between West Coast games against the Seahawks and Rams, and he was often seen wearing Eagles jerseys and other gear.

Several Eagles players took to Twitter to express their grief, including Zach Ertz, who tweeted out a photo of a signed jersey Bryant gave him.

Sidney Jones tweeted out a photo of himself with Bryant.

And Jordan Howard wrote about the impact Bryant had during his 41 years.

Thoughts on newest Eagles coach Marquand Manuel, LeSean McCoy's Hall of Fame case, more in Roob's 10 observations

Thoughts on newest Eagles coach Marquand Manuel, LeSean McCoy's Hall of Fame case, more in Roob's 10 observations

Thoughts on the Eagles’ new secondary coach, LeSean McCoy’s Hall of Fame case and an unbelievable stat about Lito Sheppard and Michael Lewis.

All that and so much more in this weekend’s edition of Roob’s random offseason Eagles observations! 

1. OK, it’s been 18 days since the Eagles fired Mike Groh, and they still don’t have an offensive coordinator. Senior Bowl week is over, the combine is only a few weeks away and free agency starts in less than two months. Of the 10 teams with an OC vacancy, the Eagles are the only one that hasn’t hired anybody. A couple thoughts: 1) Maybe the guy Doug Pederson is going to hire is already in place. Internal candidates Duce Staley and Press Taylor were both at the Senior Bowl practices. Maybe the Eagles are just waiting until the entire staff is complete to announce everything. I doubt it, but it’s possible. 2) Maybe Doug has decided not to hire an offensive coordinator and just do the job himself with his position coaches. I doubt that too, but it’s possible. 3) Otherwise, it has to be Jim Caldwell, right? As long as he’s healthy. By far the most impressive remaining outside candidate. Caldwell was QBs coach of the Colts when they won the Super Bowl and offensive coordinator of the Ravens when they won the Super Bowl. If Doug wants a veteran QB guru for the job, this is a no-brainer. Get it done.

2. I do like the Marquand Manuel hire. I like that he’s been a defensive coordinator on the NFL level, I like that he’s coached in a Super Bowl, I like that he played in the NFL for eight years and I like that he’s got a little background with Jim Schwartz — he played for Schwartz in Detroit in 2009 — but still brings a fresh voice to the coach’s room. He’s got his work cut out for him. Getting Sidney Jones on track is priority No. 1. But the Eagles’ secondary as a whole is going to look very different in 2020, and the Eagles needed a capable veteran voice to bring it all together and make it work. He looks like the guy to do it.

3. The last Eagles defensive players to make a Pro Bowl before their 25th birthday were Lewis and Sheppard in 2004. Since then, 94 defensive players league-wide have made a Pro Bowl before they turned 25. 

4. How many QBs would you rather have right now than Carson Wentz? First I’m going to eliminate anybody in their 30s — Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, all those guys. Who does that leave? You’d rather have Pat Mahomes than anybody, but beyond that? Lamar Jackson? Brilliant talent but I wonder how sustainable his style of play is. Dak Prescott? No thanks. Jimmy Garoppolo? Nope. Deshaun Watson? You can make a case, but I’d take Wentz. Jared Goff? Kyler Murray? Daniel Jones? Nah. The injuries are frustrating but no doubt in my mind that despite everything the Eagles have the right QB to build around. 

5. I wonder if the Super Bowl will be McCoy’s final game. He had a nice first half of the season and showed he has something left, but since Damien Williams’ emergence, he’s barely played and doesn’t even have a carry since mid-December. Shady’s a free agent after the Super Bowl and turns 32 this summer, an age where few running backs are still going. Shady’s the only player in NFL history with 11,000 rushing yards, a 4.5 rushing average and 500 catches. Hall of Famer if he retires now? Probably not quite. But one hell of a career.

6. Curious note about McCoy: He’s never had a carry in a postseason victory. The Eagles were 0-3 in the playoffs with McCoy in uniform and the Bills were 0-1. He didn’t have a carry in the Chiefs’ win over the Texans and was inactive for the win over the Titans. 

7. In Eagles history, Jordan Matthews has the most receiving yards after three seasons and Shady has the most rushing yards after three seasons. One of them will win a Super Bowl ring next Sunday. Both will probably be inactive.

8. Chiefs GM Brett Veach is a remarkable story. He grew up in Mt. Carmel, between Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre, starred at Mt. Carmel High School, played with Matt Nagy at Delaware and was on track to work in Delaware’s athletic department after college when he landed an internship with the Eagles in the summer of 2004. With his work ethic and uncanny eye for talent, he worked his way up the ladder. When Andy Reid asked him to find a wide receiver the Eagles could take in the second round in 2008, Veach recommended DeSean Jackson, even though he was coming off a poor season. When Reid was hired by the Chiefs in 2013, he brought Veach with him. In 2015, Veach was watching film of Texas Tech offensive lineman Le’Raven Clark and Tech’s unheralded QB kept jumping out at him, and Veach knew even then Mahomes was something special, and in 2017 they traded up for him. Mahomes is now the best QB in the NFL, an MVP and one win from a Super Bowl. In span of 10 years, Veach went from interning in the Eagles’ scouting office to drafting Pat Mahomes.  

9. This is kind of a strange one, but Boston Scott this year became only the seventh player in NFL history with 85 or fewer touches but at least five rushing TDs and 20 catches. The dude definitely made the most of his limited workload.

10. I used to think Harold Carmichael’s franchise record of 589 catches was untouchable. Only seven Eagles even reached 300 during the 30-year period from 1985 through 2015, and only Brian Westbrook got over 400. But Zach Ertz will go into 2020 just 64 catches behind Harold, and at his rate of 5.8 catches per game over the last five years he’ll pass him somewhere around Week 12 if he stays healthy. Harold will go into the Hall of Fame in September and have his most hallowed record broken in November. And knowing Harold, nobody will be happier for Ertz.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles