Stoutland Takes on His ‘Biggest’ Challenge
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Maybe Jeff Stoutland wanted to challenge himself.
This isn't the old Johnny Carson Carnac the Magnificent bit where the dean of late-night hosts would rip open the envelope and reveal the question sparking his telepathy: in this case, something like 'Why is Jordan Mailata in Philadelphia'.
By all accounts, Stoutland banged the table for the 6-foot-8, 346-pound former Australian rugby player with the body type that screams left tackle. Philadelphia ultimately moved up 17 spots in the final round of April's draft to take the 21-year-old Sydney native.
And now Stoutland, the Eagles offensive line coach who added run game coordinator to his resume in the offseason, is going to try to mold a piece of clay into an NFL player.
It's a long-term project for a man who won a national championship at the college level with Alabama and now has a Lombardi Trophy with Philadelphia but Stoutland sees Mailata's raw skills are off the charts, with the size, natural strength, and athleticism that far exceeds the average successful OT in this league.
Back in 2004, Jason Peters was an undrafted player out of Arkansas, originally recruited as a defensive tackle and moved to tight end. Fast forward 14 years and he's one of the best left tackles of the generation with a GPS set to Canton.
Mailata is also starting from square one and not the same square one as the average rookie. He has never played a down of organized football in his life as opposed to the schooling the other Eagles' rookies up front -- Central Florida OG Aaron Evans, Slippery Rock interior player Ian Park, former LSU OT Toby Weathersby, and fellow draft pick Matt Pryor -- got in high school and throughout college.
Mailata's introduction to American football came at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. where he took part in a pro day for international players and visited a number of teams, including the Eagles. That's where Stoutland took a keen interest in him.
"I guess he was just challenging me based on coachability, that’s one thing that he said," Mailata said when discussing his new boss. "He said, ‘It is one thing if you’re able to be an athlete, but if you can’t be coachable there is no point of drafting you or signing you because if you can’t be coached then there is no point in playing a team sport.’
"So that’s one thing that he challenged me was to see if I was coachable and see if I could understand what he was asking of me in that moment, either if it was on the board or on the field with the task that he was showing me with the drills."
Early in his pro career, the one thing outside all the physical gifts you can check off is the fact that Mailata embraces and even seeks out teaching. He has a tremendous attitude, wants to learn and is eager to do it.
“I have a long way to go, and that’s what coach [Stoutland] says, he just says, ‘Trust in the process,’ because, he says, ‘You’re not going to learn it overnight.'"
One of Mailata's biggest supporters after Stoutland and assistant OL coach Eugene Chung has been fellow rookie Evans, a player Mailata singled out as helpful.
“Without the boys [his teammates], I’d probably be dead,” Mailata admitted. “The pass-setting’s definitely the hardest, going from rugby. I used to be charging head-on. Now, I’m going backward, and for them to be charging at me is quite different."
Like many, All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson is intrigued by the package he sees.
“He’s a big dude,” something that takes on more significance when it comes from a 6-foot-6, 317-pound man like Johnson. “... He definitely has every attribute you want. He’s big, he’s long, he’s physical. It’s really about understanding what he’s doing and getting the confidence up."
It's the gruff Stoutland's job to get Mailata's confidence to that point as quickly as possible.
“Stout has been like the father figure nobody wants," Mailata joked before recognizing his biggest proponent. "Actually, I love that guy to death. He’s been so understanding. He recognizes where I’m at, at the moment, and where I need to get to.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Want more NFL? Check out John's piece on why Johnny Manziel needs the CFL at GetMoreSports.com