We’ve now gotten through a full week’s worth of Eagles training camp practices and on all seven of those days, Destiny Vaeao has lined up next to Fletcher Cox as a starting defensive tackle.
It’s time to really start considering the possibility that Vaeao might start Week 1.
While Tim Jernigan is on the Non-Football Injury list in a pretty mysterious situation (see story), and while Haloti Ngata has been working with the second-team defense all summer, Vaeao has been trying to make the most of his reps with the starters.
And he hopes to stay there.
“Everybody coming into this league, that’s their main goal,” Vaeao said. “To be a starter. You ain’t just coming in here to be a backup or a second-team player. That’s everybody’s mentality. This is my time to get out there and do what I’ve been doing.”
You’ve probably heard Vaeao’s name before but might not know a ton about him. He was an undrafted rookie before the 2016 season, who came to that training camp and impressed enough to make the roster. He played 26 percent of the defensive snaps as a rookie. He made the team again last year and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was expecting big things from him.
But then Vaeao broke his wrist in the season opener and was forced to miss the next five games. When he finally returned, he did so with a giant cast on his right hand.
“It was tough,” Vaeao said. “I’ll just tell you, it was really tough and it changes the way you play.”
Once he returned from the injury, Vaeao played in the final 10 games of the regular season but was inactive in two of the team’s three playoffs games. The Eagles elected to use Brandon Graham more inside and Fletcher Cox stopped coming off the field. It’s fair to wonder if Vaeao would have been active if he still had the use of both hands.
This training camp will give Vaeao a chance to show that he can play when he has both of those hands. So far, he has been solid enough to keep that starting gig through the first week, even with a former All-Pro in Ngata behind him. By the way, the other day, Ngata called Vaeao a “quiet leader.”
“So, this is a big year for him, just sort of putting it all together,” Schwartz said. “I really liked where he came out of camp last year. He's a little bit bigger now, but not overweight. He's just bigger. He's just matured a little bit more. Put a little bit more weight on.
“Third year is an important year, particularly coming off a year that he was hindered most of the year.”
While the preseason games will probably go a long way in determining starters and the rotation among defensive linemen, Vaeao hasn’t done anything to lose his spot in camp. In fact, he put veteran offensive guard Chance Warmack on his behind during a 1-on-1 yesterday. I tweeted about the play and noticed a familiar name pop up in my feed: one of Vaeao’s brothers.
Malo le finau @DestinyVaeao https://t.co/QiP8wyTRBw— Desmond Vaeao (@desmond_vaeao) August 1, 2018
I didn't get a full translation, but that's basically Desmond saying "good job" to his brother. Destiny says he doesn’t spend time on social media during training camp but admitted it’s great to know how much support he has from his family. Born in American Samoa, he said the importance of family is just a part of their culture. God, family and then football.
As it stands now, it seems like there’s a decent chance his family will get to watch him start his first career game for the defending Super Bowl champions in Week 1.
“It would be a dream come true,” he said.