By Michael Donovan
The Eagles offensive line has been celebrated ever since the Birds surprised the world but not Eagles Nation by beating the Patriots six months ago for their first Super Bowl.
And rightly so.
But one member hasn’t gotten enough mention:
Swingman Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
The Birds were facing an uphill climb long before Carson Wentz suffered his knee injury last Dec. 10 in L. A. against the Rams. Future Hall of Fame left tackle Jason Peters suffered a torn ACL and LCL in late October, knocking out a pillar of protection just as the Eagles were getting things going.
In stepped Vaitai.
The 6-6, 320-pound lineman from Texas Christian University saw extended starter action for the first time in his career and flourished, replacing Peters.
Vaitai excelled in both the pass and run games, becoming a reliable blind-side protector and an effective zone blocker. While the Eagles soared, little attention was paid to the contributions of Vaitai. But it wasn’t lost on his teammates.
“The strength of the offensive line is really going to determine the success of an offense,” Eagles tight end Zach Ertz told NFL.com last month, “and lucky for us and a credit to [GM] Howie [Roseman] and [coach] Doug [Pederson] and [offensive line] coach [Jeff] Stoutland for putting those guys in place and having depth behind them, too, so when you lose a guy like Jason Peters, you don’t crumble. You have a guy like Halapoulivaati Vaitai that comes in and has a great postseason.”
He had just as good of a regular season, too, proving the value of a sixth lineman. While some teams are sending out six-man groups for running situations, No. 6 in the group proved to be the most important to the team that ended up winning it all.