Key to Eagles tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai's improvement: His hands | Early Birds
Eagles coaches believe Halapoulivaati Vaitai is a natural left tackle, and Lane Johnson is playing at "such a high level" at right tackle that they will stay at those positions for the rest of the 2017 NFL season.
Good morning, Eagles fans. This is a Wednesday edition of Early Birds and the third day of the Eagles' bye week.
The position coaches met with reporters on Tuesday, and I was curious to hear what offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland had to say about tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai's progress. What Stoutland likes about Vaitai is that he gets "progressively better each week," something Stoutland saw last season, too. When asked where Vaitai has made the most improvement, Stoutland said it's the use of his hands. Last season, Vaitai wasn't so sure of himself. This year, he's been more sound with his hands. "I think at times when you use your hands in a violent manner, it has a tendency of taking you out of balance, taking your shoulders and heads forward," Stoutland said. "When that happens, people can run around your edge. He's become much more coordinated, much more organized with the use of his hands."
The decision to keep Vaitai at left tackle and Lane Johnson at right tackle received a lot of attention after Jason Peters' injury, but Stoutland said Vaitai is a "natural left tackle" who didn't have trouble moving between sides. "I just felt Lane was playing at such a high level, why change two positions?" Stoutland said. "To me, we're living in the moment right now. We're not looking down the road. We're not looking at the past. We learn from the past, but we're looking at where we are right now and where we have to get to, and I told this to coach [Doug] Pederson and Frank [Reich], our best thing to do would be to leave Lane where he is and let V focus on left tackle. Because I've coached other players here, they have a difficult time going from right to left, left to right from a balance standpoint. V doesn't have a problem at all. Actually, probably more comfortable on the left."
The Eagles made a practice squad transaction on Tuesday, signing safety Tre Sullivan and releasing linebacker Don Cherry. Sullivan spent the past training camp and the preseason with the Eagles and earned a reputation as a big hitter. The Eagles now have three defensive backs on the practice squad: Sullivan, D.J. Killings, and De'Vante Bausby. Sullivan played college football at Shepherd, where he was a teammate of Eagles practice squad tight end Billy Brown. Clearly, the Eagles spent time scouting the Division II program.
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Joe Walker is playing middle linebacker in the base formation, and the reality is the Eagles aren't in the base defense for the majority of the game, so he's still a part-time player. Walker played 44 percent of the defensive snaps against San Francisco and 23 percent of the snaps against Denver. His playing time will depend on matchups. Walker is certainly not Hicks, and there is a drop-off from Hicks to Walker in terms of talent and experience. I wouldn't categorize it as a "long-term concern," but he's going to need to prove he can be effective when in the game — especially if teams try keying on the middle of the field. Walker is in his second year in Philadelphia (first playing) and has some traits the Eagles like at the position.
"He's probably the biggest of our linebackers," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "He's good at directing traffic. He's done that the whole time he's been here. He's used to making all the calls, and I think that's a big part of it."