LANDOVER, MD -Halapoulivaati Vaitai understands this now about the NFL: No matter how much you try to simulate the speed and the conditions of a regular season game in a week or two or three of practice, it's very difficult.
In his first "live" action of his NFL career, Vaitai started at right tackle and had his downs, and later some ups, in a 27-20 loss to the Washington Redskins. Working against a changing front and different personnel, Vaitai gave up a pair of sacks to standout defensive end Ryan Kerrigan on inside moves and the Redskins dominated the Eagles' new-look offensive line playing for the first time without suspended right tackle Lane Johnson.
"It was tough out there. It was a lot different than practice," said Vaitai, a fifth-round draft pick from TCU. "It took time to get used to things."
By then, though, Kerrigan established his presence and the Redskins had the Eagles off-kilter. Kerrigan helped generate pressure on the first sack of the game registered by safety Will Blackmon. He got off the ball quickly on the very first snap, getting to quarterback Carson Wentz by blowing past tight end Brent Celek, who was called for a holding penalty on the play, which Washington declined. The next time Wentz dropped back to pass, Kerrigan slipped past Vaitai with a nifty inside move for his first sack and then picked up his next sack on the second play of the second quarter.
Washington sacked Wentz five times, knocked him down six other times and recorded 11 hurries. Not all of it was on Vaitai, of course, but the Eagles took a step back with Johnson back home in Oklahoma.
"I have a lot of things to work on and I'm going to work on them," Vaitai said. "I have to get off the ball faster, play lower, use better techinque more consistently. It was a learning experience out there. They got me a few times. I need to play better than that."
The Eagles managed just 239 total net yards and converted only 4-of-12 third downs working against a defense that entered the game ranked last in the league in third-down efficiency. For the first time this season, the Eagles failed to score an offensive touchdown.
"It wasn't because of Big V," said tight end Zach Ertz, who was limited to one reception. "We collectively didn't play well. We committed penalties, shot ourselves in the foot. We just didn't get it done. Big V is going to work and he's going to be a great player in this league for a long time."
"I thought initially he started out just trying to get his legs," head coach Doug Pederson said. "Had a couple missed assignments early and felt like he settled in as the game wore on. We used more help on his side as the game wore on as well, really on both edges. But, he's a warrior. He's a battler and he stepped up, did a good job. He'll learn from it and get ready for next week."
The Eagles are sticking with Vaitai at right tackle, so he has a big week in front of him with the outstanding Minnesota Vikings defense coming into Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.
"For sure there is a lot of work to do," he said. "I know what to expect now. That's going to help me a lot."