Seumalo, Vaitai comfortable heading into Year 2 after busy rookie seasons

Seumalo, Vaitai comfortable heading into Year 2 after busy rookie seasons

Had everything gone to plan in 2016, Isaac Seumalo and Halapoulivaati Vaitai would have spent their rookie seasons watching from the sideline. 

Everything didn't go to plan. 

Allen Barbre had a hamstring injury, Lane Johnson was suspended for 10 games and Brandon Brooks lost two games as he dealt with anxiety issues. 

As a result, Seumalo and Vaitai, third- and fifth-round draft picks, respectively, aren't just one year into their NFL careers. They've also played significant NFL snaps. 

And this year, they'll arrive at training camp as seasoned veterans, not green rookies. So which has had the greater impact: the year or playing time? 

"It’s both," head coach Doug Pederson said. "It's a combination of both. But the biggest thing is the actual playing time last year has really put them in good position this year."

Vaitai ended up playing in seven games with six starts. He played a total of 423 snaps as a rookie and filled in for Johnson until he went down with a knee injury. After a rough start — really rough — Vaitai settled in and showed signs that he could possibly be the Eagles' right tackle of the future. 

When asked about the difference in Vaitai from last year to this year, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland laughed before answering. 

"Night and day, apples and oranges," Stoutland said. "Just his understanding of the position, his balance, his body control, the way he uses his hands. This is a lot faster game than college."

Vaitai found out about the speed of the game first-hand in Week 6 last year. Thanks to Johnson's suspension, Vaitai started at right tackle and didn't have a bad game. He had a horrible game. 

He didn't need to think very long when he was asked what his "welcome to the NFL" moment was. 

"It was that game," he said. "Because in camp I'm going with the threes and twos. I was still a rookie, but when I got thrown into the fire, I learned real quick that if you're not doing great, then you're out. I didn't want to be a disappointment to my family and be that guy who gets drafted and then is out the next year."

Seumalo ended up playing in nine games with four starts and a total of 335 snaps. He played four positions along the offensive line; the only one he didn't play was his most natural spot at center. 

"It's not just the year, it's the playing experience," Stoutland said. "He's played in nine games I think he started four of those games. ... He played a lot of football in his first year. Just that experience in playing those positions and understanding the angles we need to take. He's a very intelligent player. I love coaching players of his magnitude. They have talent, they're smart. Really all you do is coach him one time on something and he pretty much has it."

Seumalo didn't get to play at center last year because veteran Jason Kelce didn't miss any of the 1,133 snaps in 2016. Kelce is still on the team, but it seems like the Eagles are grooming Seumalo to eventually take over. Even this spring, the second-year lineman has been taking some first-team reps at center. 

That's actually how Seumalo thinks he got better. By learning the center position, he gained a better grasp of the offense. That, combined with a year under his belt and significant playing time, have him feeling much more confident heading into Year 2.

"Training camp was tough and a grind and the season is just long," Seumalo said. "Now, I know what to expect a little bit more."

Fletcher Cox among Eagles not at OTAs; Doug Pederson updates position battles

Fletcher Cox among Eagles not at OTAs; Doug Pederson updates position battles

The Eagles had near-perfect attendance as they kicked off their Organized Team Activities (OTAs) on Tuesday morning, but there were a few notable absences.

Fletcher Cox, Jason Peters and Donnie Jones are not with the team. (Update: Neither is Marcus Smith.)

"Obviously as you guys know too, it's a voluntary offseason program," head coach Doug Pederson said. "I've been in touch with all three of those guys, so we've communicated for the reasons for them not being here. But no worries with them going forward."

This is the second year in a row that Cox has missed the start of OTAs. Last year, he was waiting on his big contract, which came after the minicamp in June.

Cox, who signed a mega contract less than a year ago, sent out an Instagram story on Monday in Philipsburg, Netherlands Antilles.

"The reason is satisfactory, but again it's a voluntary program," Pederson said. "I would love for everybody to be here. That's just me personally, I would love everybody to be here. But I know it's not always going to work out that way.

"Fletcher is one of the leaders on the football team and guys like that, you do expect to be here, but I get the rules, we abide by the rules and he's one of the guys too, at the end of the day, I'm gonna hang my hat on and go to war with."

As far as the guys who are with the Eagles this week, Pederson revealed some of the starters at positions in question (see OTA storylines).

Second-year guard Isaac Seumalo will begin OTAs as the team's starting left guard, taking Allen Barbre's place. Pederson did say Barbre is getting over a calf injury.

"This gives [Seumalo] an opportunity to work in there so we can get Allen," the head coach said. "Allen's a guy, as you guys know, one of those versatile offensive linemen who can play guard and tackle, so when we get Allen back we want to work him not just at guard but also at tackle."

Jason Kelce, who has been the center of plenty of rumors and whispers this offseason, is still going to take first-team reps at center, while Stefen Wisniewski and Seumalo will also get some reps at center.

And second-year player Jalen Mills and free agent pickup Patrick Robinson will start the camp running with the ones at corner (see players to watch at OTAs).

This first round of OTAs runs three days: May 23-25.

Doug Pederson expects competition at LG for Eagles, Kelce to be on team

Doug Pederson expects competition at LG for Eagles, Kelce to be on team

PHOENIX -- Get ready for the great left guard competition of 2017.

While the Eagles still have all five members of their 2016 starting offensive line on the roster as of Wednesday morning at the league's annual meetings, it seems very possible the starting O-line won't look the same next year.

At the NFC coaches breakfast at the Biltmore Hotel, Pederson said he still expects center Jason Kelce to be on the roster when the season starts in September. With a few options to replace him, the team has reportedly been trying to trade Kelce, which would help their salary cap situation.

But even if Kelce is the team's starting center in 2017, there's no guarantee that last year's starting left guard, Allen Barbre, will be lining up next to him.

At first, Pederson, when asked about keeping the same starting O-line, said, "You'd hope so," but then talked about the competition for that left guard spot.

"Well, going into OTAs, Isaac (Seumalo) has showed he played on a moment's notice," Pederson said. "He's a guy that we want to get into the mix and Allen (Barbre) is a veteran player that obviously has a wealth of experience, obviously a lot of starts in the National Football League, so there's going to be some good competition going into this season."

And it's not just Seumalo and Barbre in contention to win the starting left guard spot. The team also brought in free agent and former first-round pick Chance Warmack and re-signed Stefen Wisniewski to a multi-year deal. Pederson mentioned both of them by name.

That leaves four players, with 171 combined career starts (Wisniewski 83, Warmack 48, Barbre 36, Seumalo 4), fighting for one starting gig.

"It just creates some of that competition that we're always looking for, trying to find the best five going into the season," Pederson said.

Barbre will be 33 by the time the season starts, Warmack is on a one-year deal, and Seumalo appears to be the center of the future, so any of these three taking backup roles makes sense for now.

The more unique situation is with Wisniewski. The 28-year-old guard/center came to the Eagles on a one-year deal last season and wasn't shy about his desire to become a starter. Then the Eagles signed him to a three-year deal this offseason.

"Again, it's another opportunity for him to compete and compete on our roster," Pederson said. "He had six starts last year and he filled a role that we needed last year. Going into this season, the beauty of having guys like that, whether they're starters, backups, role players, whatever you want to call them, it just gives you depth at the position and gives you competition in training camp. It's a great thing to have veteran players as backups or role players that compete and want to start."

While there will still be question marks at the left guard and even center positions when the Eagles get together for spring workouts, there aren't questions at the other three spots on the offensive line. Jason Peters is the left tackle, Brandon Brooks is the right guard and Lane Johnson is the right tackle.

It seems very possible, however, that this will be Peters' last season, at least with the Eagles. The team asked him to restructure his contract this offseason but eventually decided to keep him at his $11.7 million cap hit. That number would go up even more in 2018, the last year of his contract.

The Eagles already have a solid succession plan already in place. When Peters retires or moves on, Johnson will slide over from right tackle to left and protect Carson Wentz's blind side.

But do the Eagles have a replacement ready for Johnson?

Pederson thinks they might have an answer in Halapoulivaati Vaitai, a fifth-round pick last year, who will enter his second season in 2017. He's just not sure yet.

"It's hard to just say, pin me down and say he's a starter," Pederson said. "I think what he did last year, talk about incremental improvement, that kid improved every week and I think there's a chance. I think there's a chance he could be a dynamic starting tackle in his future. And, again, it's a credit to Jeff Stoutland and Howie (Roseman) and the guys for finding him and looking at him. He was one of the guys watching on tape last year that really stood out a little bit. You saw from the Washington game on, how well he improved. If he continues to do that, I think he could be a starter in this league."