The Hype Fluctuates but the Eagles Plan for Jordan Mailata Remains Steady
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — There are always silver linings in life.
For Jordan Mailata, his silver lining may have been Joe Ostman.
Ostman, the second-year scout-team star who is out for the season after tearing his ACL during the only Eagles open practice of the summer at Lincoln Financial Field earlier this month, often made life miserable at practice for the big 6-foot-8, 360-pound former Australian rugby player, mainly with a first step that was simply too quick and explosive, even for a guy with the wingspan of an NBA center.
In the NFL, however, the cliche is iron sharpens iron and perhaps Ostman's style was a fight Mailata was destined to lose. But, looking terrible in practice got Mailata prepared for the preseason opener against Tennessee where the second-year player got extensive reps at both right and left tackle, a team-high 53 to be exact, while holding his own at both.
"He did really well," Ostman said in the locker room earlier this week when talking about his practice pal.
In an even bigger development for Mailata, the head coach agreed.
“He did some good things [against the Titans],” Doug Pederson said. “We were pleased with his performance. It wasn't perfect. There were one or two things, just little mental errors. Overall, I felt like he came out with an eagerness, with an aggressiveness and really showed the type of player that I think he's capable of being.”
The Eagles have always perceived Mailata as a long-term project but the hype generated by former offensive linemen turned analysts like Brian Baldinger and Ross Tucker created unrealistic expectations for Mailata during his rookie season.
From Jeff Stoutland's perspective, however, it's also been a three-year plan. The Eagles got Mailata's feet wet at what they project as his natural position of left tackle in Year 1 before moving to cross-training this summer with the hope Mailata can be a contributor as a swing tackle by 2020.
For now, Lane Johnson and Jason Peters being backed up by Halapoulivaati Vaitai and 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard is more than enough depth.
Stoutland, though, is not necessarily thrilled with those who take aim at his rawest student.
“Everybody wants to watch one-on-ones. That’s like going to a gunfight with rocks. I mean, you’re kicking backward, [the defensive linemen] are going full speed, there’s no threat of a run," the gruff Stoutland complained when discussing Mailata's struggles with Ostman.
In other words, offensive linemen are supposed to get beat, just like defensive backs are supposed to have difficulty stopping 7-on-7 drills.
"If you dominate in a one-on-one drill, you’re really good," Stoutland explained. “It’s almost like taking poison every day. If you go into a one-on-one drill and you start altering what you’re being taught because it’s so quick on you, doing different things than what you’re being coached, you create bad habits. ... I try very hard, I say, ‘Look, we’re up against it here. Don’t worry about getting beat, just take the line I’m telling you to take.'"
The technique is what Stoutland is always most concerned about especially with Mailata, who never played a down or organized football at any level before arriving in Philadelphia last season.
"I’m very lucky and very fortunate,” Mailata said when discussing the Eagles and Stoutland. “They put their trust in me, and I’ve got to be accountable.”
With Lane Johnson week-to-week with a knee injury and team sources telling 973espn.com that the goal is Week 1 for the All-Pro, and Vaitai filling in for the rehabbing Brandon Brooks at right guard, Mailata is likely to start the rest of the preseason at right tackle.
The added reps can only help. No matter which direction the hype goes, though, the goal remains the same. Slow and steady progress will win this race.
“I’m just doing what I’m told,” Mailata said. “Trying to be that next man up, have that mentality.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen