First, the most important part:
It’s pronounced: hal-lah-poo-lee-VAH-tee VIE-tie.
The Eagles’ new right tackle is 22 years old, has never played in an NFL game, has never dressed for an NFL game, likes to eat octopus and at 14 letters has the longest first name in Eagles history. By far.
With Lane Johnson’s 10-game suspension becoming official Tuesday, rookie fifth-round pick Halapoulivaati Vaitai becomes the Eagles’ starting right tackle.
Although Doug Pederson hasn't said the Eagles are definitely going in that direction, he did say on Monday that if Johnson were unable to practice Wednesday because of his hyperextended right elbow, Vaitai would take the first-team reps in his place.
Using deductive reasoning, we can safely determine that if Johnson were unavailable for a different reason, Vaitai would still be the first-team tackle.
So Vaitai will make his NFL debut on Sunday against the Redskins and quite possibly remain the starter through the Eagles' Week 15 game Dec. 18 against the Ravens in Baltimore.
“Gotta get ready, you know? It’s my job,” Vaitai said last week. “Gotta step up. Gotta be the next man up. They depend on me, so I’m going to give everything I’ve got.”
Johnson is eligible to play only the Eagles’ last two games of the regular season — the Giants on Dec. 22, a Thursday night, and the season finale Jan. 1 against the Cowboys. Both games are at the Linc.
Vaitai last played on Sept. 1, when the Eagles finished the preseason against the Jets. He started and played the entire game at right tackle.
Since then, he’s done nothing to convince the coaches he can’t handle this.
“I started to see (his improvement) in preseason, to be honest with you,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said last week. “A couple of the preseason games. As the preseason games went on, you could see him getting better and better.
“Again, it's what we expected, but you could definitely see the progression go as each preseason game went on and he got more reps.”
Vaitai, who played at Texas Christian, stands 6-foot-6, 315 pounds. He was a two-time all-Big 12 pick at TCU. His parents are from Tonga, but Vaitai grew up in Texas and played high school football at Haltom High, about 20 miles northwest of AT&T Stadium, home of the Cowboys.
“What we saw with 'Big V' was on his college tape, just one of the things that jumped out was how good of a pass protector he really is, how natural he is at that,” Reich said.
“And then really to me with the big improvements that I've seen is in the run game — a physicality, a toughness, an aggressiveness. He's a very natural pass setter, got great fundamentals and technique in pass protection, but where you've seen the improvement has been in the run game.”
Pederson said that even though Vaitai hasn’t dressed for any regular-season games, his work on the scout team — working against the Eagles’ highly regarded defensive line — has helped prepare him for what he’s going to face starting Sunday.
“He's been going against our starting defensive line ... so the work he's done in that capacity, against a good defensive line, gives us confidence that if we had to make that decision we could do that and not bat an eye,” Pederson said.
“Just from that standpoint and then going back and evaluating even his preseason games and looking at that and where he is physically, mentally, puts him in a good position to potentially be that right tackle.”
Pederson says potentially because he hasn’t formally announced that Vaitai will start.
The original plan to replace Johnson was to swing left guard Allen Barbre out to right tackle and go with another rookie, third-round pick Isaac Seumalo, at left guard.
But the Eagles like the fact that replacing Johnson with Vaitai only affects the Eagles at one position instead of two.
Pederson is expected to announce his right tackle plans on Wednesday, when the Eagles return to practice.
“He’s getting a lot of reps vs. a very good defense and vs. a very good defensive line,” Reich said. “And when we're running scout team, I mean, we're paying attention to that.
“That certainly gives you indicators because when you're running scout team the defense is going full speed, they're going hard. So it's really a good measure.
“That's why we push our guys. Those guys that run scout team, it's a good opportunity for them as well.”