Thu, 09 Apr 2020

New Lions OL Vaitai has versatility to his game

Detroit Lions
26 Mar 2020, 19:25 GMT+10

Long time Philadelphia left tackle Jason Peters, a nine-time Pro Bowler and staple on the Eagles' line for a decade, gave new Lions tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai some advice Vaitai always kept with him during his time with Philly.

"He was always telling me, 'Just be patient. You won't get your moment now, but as long as you know how to work (it will come one day).'" Vaitai said in a conference call Wednesday.

His time could be now in Detroit.

Vaitai, 26, a former fifth-round pick out of TCU in 2016, was kind of a jack of all trades for the Eagles' offensive line, playing in 55 career games with 20 starts. He played left tackle, right tackle and even dabbled some at guard.

He took over as the Eagles' starting LT following a season-ending injury to Peters in 2017, and played a role on Philadelphia's Super Bowl LII run. He's also filled in at right tackle in place of the injured Lane Johnson at times.

Vaitai said his ability to play multiple spots made him more attractive to teams in free agency and improved his stock. The Lions and Vaitai agreed to terms on a free-agent contract last week.

In Detroit, Vaitai will have an opportunity for the first time in his career to earn a steady starting role at right tackle. The Lions released their starting right tackle from the last two seasons, Rick Wagner, ahead of free agency. That's left an open starting spot. Vaitai and third-year tackle Tyrell Crosby are expected to be the main challengers for that role.

"I have a lot of experience under my belt across the line," Vaitai said. "Wherever they need me I can help the team."

Vaitai was among 22 tackles last year that finished the season with an overall positive grade from Pro Football Focus. He was graded eighth among all tackles as a run blocker, though his pass blocking was graded significantly lower (51st).

Vaitai said Philadelphia's offensive line room lives by a "next man up" mantra, so he's trained as a starter the last four years. He was engaged, asked questions and approached every day as if he was a starter. He says nothing changes for him in Detroit if he wins the starting right tackle spot.

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